Advice

‘I’m torn between two magic circle TC offers in the Middle East’

By on
83

I need readers’ advice

Dubai

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one soon-to-be trainee finds himself torn between two very attractive training contract offers.

“I am writing with regards to a career conundrum I have found myself in and am desperately looking for some advice. I have two Middle East training contract offers from Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy. To help give me some well-rounded insight I am interested in any experiences or knowledge of either/both of the firms, things like career progression? Experience as trainees? Pay? Genuinely interested to know which firm the readers think is a bigger player in the Middle East and would be a better firm to accept the TC. I am really appreciative of any insight and advice that is shared.”

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.

83 Comments

Chas Scoobs

…having just come back after working as a solicitor and legal consultant in Dubai for ten years, I’d advise “don’t bother”….WW3 is about to break out there and there is no future.

(44)(26)

Reality Cheek

If you think Legal Cheek is a place for career advice, you don’t deserve either.

(84)(7)

Anonymous

It doesn’t matter.

You will be equally miserable at both.

(46)(5)

City Trainee

My advice would be to take neither unless you see yourself being in the UAE long term. You most likely will face an upwards battle to come to London.

The A&O and CC of UAE is not the same as that of London. I have worked for Middle Eastern firms and City firms in the Middle East, the level of sophistication is not the same.

(52)(3)

Anonymous

Exactly. Same with any firm out theres Dubai office. Glorified c**p with less bright people.
London and New York is the way to go.

(27)(8)

Anon

Exactly. It’s only one step up from the cesspits of the offshore world such as cayman and bvi.

(36)(5)

tug speedman

lol you obviously know nothing about the lush life and phat coin you earn in the BVI and Cayman you chippy little cretin

(14)(48)

Anon

I do, actually. Did secondments in both jurisdictions. Cayman is ugly: flat and a second rate version of Florida in terms of architecture. BVI is hilly but a total sh*t hole. There is an open sewer in the capital. The lawyers in each place are second rate and very insecure. Spend their time trying to convince themselves that acting as post boxes for onshore lawyers is a worthwhile use of their time. Professional graveyards.

Anonymous

Call BS on 11:27. “Secondments in both jurisdictions”, what a joke.

Still, even associates can take home $500k a year tax free….

Anon

Secondments in Cayman and BVI are very common when you are a junior at the Chancery Bar. My chambers has good relationships with firms in each jurisdiction and arranges secondments on a regular basis. You would know that if you were a lawyer with even the remotest understanding or experience of cross-border litigation.

Anonymous

So you would not know about the pay then, being on a secondment? Typical ivory tower chancery type spouting off.

Anon

I was not commenting on pay, you cretin. Wake up.

Anonymous

It seems you were not commenting on anything, except how superior you are.

Anon

Well, I’m certainly superior to you in one respect: I can read and understand English.

Anonymous

Thanks for proving the point about your mindset. You clearly have the personality for the chancery bar. You might want to include some verbs in your sentences, though.

Anon

You clearly don’t know what a verb is. Please leave the debate to the grown-ups.

frmrMClawyer

I don’t think there is much in it. I’d say A&O is ‘slightly’ better regarded overall than CC at least in London. Pay and career progression will be similar and frankly neither is that important to a trainee. I can’t speak to which is better in the Middle East unfortunately.

I’ve known plenty of colleagues/friends who’ve practised in the Middle East over the years. There could be a very good reason as to why you’re training there (home country, some other connection etc.) but I’ve known many who find the quality of lifestyle/office culture hard to take. I’d consider that if you haven’t lived or worked there already. Best of luck.

(28)(13)

Jim

Bollocks. A&O is definitely the worst of the MC firms.

(15)(26)

Anonymous

Out of interest which is the worst MC firm?

(2)(1)

Nelson

Jim has just said it… Duh!

(6)(1)

Anon

CC is a better firm than A&O, both in terms of quality of work and culture. Rather than coming to Legal Cheek and listening to nonsense I would consider looking at the L500 and Chambers rankings for both firms for the areas of law most of interest to you. CC has more Tier 1 rankings than any other firm, just FYI.

(1)(2)

AO Dubs Assoc

Do A&O. You will have at least one seat in London so not difficult to move to HQ if you decide to. The team is great and the pay is awesome

(10)(16)

City Trainee

There is literally no chance you qualify into the London office from one seat. They make that very clear that you’re a Dubai trainee and will be a Dubai NQ.

(32)(4)

Anon

CC Dubai trainees also do a seat in London. There have been cases of CC Dubai trainees moving across to London after qualification but this is VERY rare. You are more likely to end up in Dubai permanently.

(1)(0)

Kirkland NQ

My sole criteria was which firm can get me a sweet Lambo, an awesome Chelsea townhouse and a model girlfriend. I chose wisely.

(28)(35)

Your client

Does it bother you that the PE professionals that you work for earn a handsome multiple of your salary whilst instructing you to slave your life away for them?

(11)(1)

Anon

As someone who was previously interested in applying to both. I know CC pays its Dubai Trainees the same as its London Trainees. I don’t think AO say how much they pay Dubai trainees. Look at the Middle Eastern rankings on Chambers and Partners and Legal 500 and see how different areas compare.

(7)(1)

Bryan

ME is great. No tax, no crime, lower cost of living.

(8)(29)

Real

No professional prestige, no culture, no chance of being taken seriously.

(39)(7)

Anonymous

It is OK if you are basic , second rate and soulless, perhaps.

(17)(2)

Cut the BS

Who cares about professional prestige? This isn’t primary school, getting a gold star on your chart doesn’t mean anything. Do good work, clients notice, clients give you work – that’s all that matters.

There’s no culture if you don’t bother to speak a non-European language and instead nestle yourself into the expat community. Perhaps opening your mind and speaking with those who aren’t just like you when you’re in a foreign country will expose you to some culture?

Lack of a chance of being taken seriously? By whom? You can absolutely still come back to London and practise so long as you can evidence you’re good at your work. Coasting on your firm’s name brand and traditional location won’t get you all that far in the long run anyway.

(0)(1)

Iapetus

The only Middle Eastern firm worth its salt is Greenwang Glusker LLP’s Babylon office.

(14)(1)

Bob

The only Middle Eastern firm worth its salt is there isn’t one.

(4)(4)

anon

Dubai seems to attract people motivated mainly by money – probably as a result of the proliferation of finance/corporate roles, low tax, high salaries and zero culture.

I think most people would find the crowd out there rather vacuous.

(31)(4)

Expat

Dubai always gets a bad rep but having lived in the ME, people are motivated by other factors too. The sunny weather (bearable outside of May-Aug and you’re always in an air-conditioned place anyway), great qualify of life, ability to afford a 4 bedroom house for what it would cost to buy a studio in London and the fact there is no violent crime all add up to a pretty decent life. This is aside from the decent WLB, cosmopolitan population and income tax-free salaries.

For those of us who grew up in the region, it makes sense and is a great life. For anyone else, it seems like madness but I guess you can’t really have an opinion on how it is to live there unless you have experienced it first hand.

(39)(41)

Drew

I think you can have an opinion.

The question is how informed your opinion is. If somebody doesn’t give it much thought and does not consider the factors listed in your email, then of course that opinion will not hold much weight. However, if somebody is aware of what it would be like to live in Dubai, knows others out there, and can see the positives and negatives in a reasonably balanced way, then I don’t think it is fair that they cannot have an opinion. The idea that you cannot have an opinion on how it would be like to live somewhere until you in fact lived there is a little farcical.

(16)(9)

BJ

I don’t think anyone would deny that you are entitled to form an opinion. The point which is fairly made is that your opinion is worthless unless you have relevant experience.

(12)(23)

Some other guy

I’m not Expat I don’t know where the mass dislikes are coming from. I just posted a comment and it also has 21 dislikes in a few minutes. I’m not in Dubai, I don’t want to go to Dubai, but having been there, I can’t disagree with Expat. It suits some, it doesn’t suit others. For some it suits them in the short-run and not the long.

(8)(12)

Hoey

The answer is CC. Dubai is strong for two things – M&A and disputes. CC has a better rep, better rated and I think bigger team for disputes than A&O.

It’s also not for other people to judge – if you have two offers in Dubai and none in London, it’s a no brainer for Dubai. No one knows the background – maybe that person has family in the ME. In any event, Dubai isn’t that bad – for all the wibbling people do on here about US firms, the inside of an tower office in London is very much the same as in Dubai; the difference is in Dubai, you’ll have a lot more time outside of it. It’s tax free and although it’s expensive, you’ll probably earn more than you would at an MC firm in Dubai than a US firm in London.

Also plenty of people move back from Dubai having done disputes or M&A to London. It’s not like you’re stuck there especially with an MC firm on your resume, assuming you can’t get an internal transfer. In particular, you could also do HK or Singapore if you’re in disputes.

(27)(32)

Real

Very difficult to move from Dubai to London. You will suffer from a quality/credibility deficit.

(25)(1)

Anon

What if you train in London and do a few years PQ, then move for Dubai for a few years. How difficult would it be to then return?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

People would look at your CV and think “Drink problem”.

(18)(3)

Anon

And “not bright or able enough”.

Hoey

Real: not true. I know six people who went over there between NQ to 2PQE to MC firms, and they have all returned to London, and are doing well.

It comes down to the area, PQE, your skillset and what the market in London is like.

It’s a very simplistic understanding which reveals you don’t know much about it. If you’re in disputes, for example, people moving to the sandpit and coming back is very common. Just as people who go do funds in Cayman and coming back to London is common. UK firms dominate disputes along with the boutique litigation shops and good calibre 2-4 PQEs will find the move back pretty easy. I know someone who moved at around 5 to Quinn Emmanuel and had never practised as an associate in the UK.

As long as you have a credible story as a candidate, there’s nothing wrong with doing it. Making a move from a smaller UK firm to Herbert Smith at 3PQE is very doable as well, not doable at NQ. It’s going to be very difficult trying to make a move at NQ level to the UK, but not at a more senior level.

The problem is no one here knows much about it evidenced by the likes and dislikes.

(12)(21)

Greg

Considering you can’t go to either cayman or bvi until you are 3 years’ PQE, it is doubtful you would be returning at 2 or 4 years’ qualified or that there would be a market for you at that level. Stop talking bollocks.

(36)(4)

Hoey

No, Greg – I just explained that I know six people who moved to Dubai between NQ and 2PQE, who have all made the move back successfully, so clearly I am not talking “bollocks”. I am however pointing to real life examples.

And you’re also wrong on BVI – lots of people move at 1-3. It’s only Cayman which look for 2/3+ PQE. BVI actually does have people who have moved over at NQ – look at some of the top firms there, you’ll see the odd one or two.

It is very common for people to move to Cayman or BVI for 2 years or so and then come back to London, as is also the case for Dubai. It’s actually not that common for people to stay long-term, the vast majority of people move back home within 1-4 years.

It’s incredible how confident people can be without actually knowing anything.

Greg

You are still talking bollocks, Hoey. By operation of local statute, you cannot move either to Cayman or BVI until you are 3 years’ PQE. I know that, because I am a partner of a BVI firm (with an office in Cayman).

Hoey

I posted a comment in reply to Greg’s but it doesn’t seem to have been posted, perhaps because I included a link to a profile to someone I know at Harneys in the BVI who joined at 1 PQE, and perhaps LC doesn’t want to allow that. But anyone can go onto their website and see for themselves.

The BVI doesn’t not have a 3PQE rule and associates can join from NQ up. Cayman and BVI have separate legal systems. The BVI is pretty small, there aren’t that many people out there but there are always associates who get taken from 1-2 PQE up. You can google right now to see recruitment ads looking for 2PQEs for the BVI.

It is very common for associates to go to BVI or Cayman for 1-3 years and then return to London. That’s actually what the vast majority of people do. It’s rare for people to stay long term. Same goes for Dubai. People go for the money and sun, and then return. These places are just expat carousels.

My other point which I was going to make is that Greg is clearly not a partner in the BVI, or indeed a lawyer at all. It’s just annoying when people make up lies.

Greg

You are still talking bollocks, Hoey. The 3 year PQE rule applies by operation of statute in Cayman and BVI. The only exemptions are for ad hoc (as opposed to general) admission, and in respect of non-expats. The ad hoc exemption is to allow barristers to appear in the courts on a case by case basis, and the non-expat exemption is so that Caymanians and BVI Belongers can undertake training contracts and qualify locally. Since those to whom your advice is directed are expats seeking general admission, the 3 year PQE rule applies.

Greg

You are still talking bollocks, Hoey. The statutory rules in Cayman and BVI require 3 years’ PQE. The exceptions are for ad hoc admission, and for Caymanians and BVI Belongers. The ad hoc exception is to allow barristers to appear in court on a case by case basis; the exception for Caymanians and BVI Belongers is so that locals can train and qualify there. Neither exception applies to expats who are seeking general admission, which is the relevant category here.

Hoey

Just because you want to lie on the internet, it doesn’t mean anyone should believe you. No one needs to be admitted in BVI to practise there.

The level of your dishonesty is just staggering. Nat Bundy @ Harneys is just 1 person of loads of who are out there who went at 1 PQE.

There is nothing prohibiting anyone below 3 to practise in BVI and that’s why so many do.

Greg

You are still talking bollocks, Hoey. Try reading the BVI Act which regulates the legal profession here:

https://www.chba.org.uk/for-members/library/practice-directions-court-notices/legal-profession-act-2015-bvi

As you will see, only those admitted to practise in the BVI can work here – unsurprisingly. And from January 2019, you have to be 5 years’ PQE to be admitted; until then, the 3 years’ PQE rule applies. (I am grateful to my HR department for pointing out the new 5 year rule.)

For the purposes of determining the length of PQE for English and Scottish solicitors, the BVI court counts from the date you complete your LPC.

Hoey

Greg – the Legal Professions Act 2015 to which you link was never implemented and was deferred indefinitely. Which is why you see ads for 1s and 2s and why people have joined with between 1-2 in the last year like Nat Bundy who I mentioned and joined last year.

I know from personal experience myself as I’ve interviewed and have been offered with less than 3 PQE in the last year, which is why I know a thing or two about this.

You are not a lawyer. You are not a partner. You do not work in the BVI.

Anon

You are still talking bollocks, Hoey. Yes, it was enacted.

You have never been interviewed for a job in the BVI. You know nothing about this.

Hoey

The LPA was enacted but it was never IMPLEMENTED and its IMPLEMENTATION has been deferred indefinitely.

Done arguing with the troll in his mother’s basement, this was just for information to other posters.

Greg

You are still talking bollocks, Hoey.

The Act was both enacted and implemented.

Someone who coaches future commercial lawyers

It all depends on what your career related goals are long term. CC offer a one year placement in their London office during their ME TC, so that might compel you to choose the firm if that’s important to you. Both firms are situated in the exact same office in Dubai (the last time I checked) and offer comparable training and accolades, so all in all choosing either firm will not make a material difference to your long term success as a commercial lawyer. If you take the offer from either firm you will have to be completely sure that you want to qualify in Dubai as it’s much harder to change your mind down the line.
Best of luck!

(8)(0)

Hamaad Karim

In terms of the Middle East both A&O and Clifford Chance are the leaders in the market but in terms of overall benefit as a trainee right now I think Clifford Chance would be a better bet. Once qualified I think it’s actually quite difficult to tell the two apart but in the current market I do think CC would be better placed for the next few years.

(7)(12)

Blipped

Why tf is there a trend of disliking comments that acc give genuine advice? Lol nobheads
N also, I don’t get what ‘culture’ you lot are raving about when clearly we get shafted hard ?
Plus, no tax n no crime sounds better than culture anyway

(12)(30)

Anonymous

As noted above, the place is good if you are basic. You’d be suited to it.

(23)(5)

Former Dubai Trainee

Having had first hand experience, I recently completed a TC in a British firm with one of the largest presences in Dubai, and then qualified into my firm’s London office.

Irrespective of whichever firm you end up choosing (and I would also go with CC if I were in your shoes) in my opinion, Trainees that are based in Dubai often get better experience (and therefore end up being of a much higher caliber) than those that train elsewhere. The reason for that is because the hierarchical structure in many firms’ satellite offices in Dubai is much flatter, and there are generally less people in the team, meaning as a junior, you get much more responsibility and experience. I would say work in Dubai as a trainee is equivalent to work as an associate in London. Paralegals and secretaries get a lot more responsibility too and a lot more is expected of them, and of trainees, generally. I also did a seat in London for my last rotation, and I can unequivocally say the work work I did in the Dubai office during my first seat was much more challenging than any of the work I did in the London office in my last seat. The Partners in my team tried to retain two Dubai trainees as they could see that our level of training was much more rigorous than our London counterparts. I would, however, say the TC is better structured in London, and you get much more support and supervision. I ended up choosing to qualify in London for personal reasons but would have otherwise stayed on as an NQ in Dubai with no qualms.

Things you should consider:

1. Salary: will definitely be higher in Dubai than what is offered in London, I expect the salaries at both CC and A&O will be approximately the same – approx AED20-25k/month.

2. Career opportunities: most firms (if not all) offer an opportunity to do a secondment to London, and although I don’t know about CC or A&O first hand, I’d be shocked and surprised if either of them didn’t offer this option.

3. Future employment prospects: most ME firms have much less trainees, approx. 3-5 each intake, with there usually being only one intake per year. The likelihood that you’ll get retained as an NQ is very high. Everyone at my firm got retained.

4. Personal reasons: assess what your priorities are, and whether you want to stay in Dubai or London. Life in Dubai is great, as a couple of other people have commented, but it’s not for everyone. That’s not to say if you stay in Dubai for TC or as an NQ that you’re stuck there forever, but agree with some of the other comments that making a move from Dubai to London is tough and I got lucky with really supportive Partners.

5. As others have mentioned, check out rankings on Chambers, but also, consider the firms’ size. I think CC is probably better regarded in the market as I believe A&O have smaller offices with less employees in Dubai, compared to some of the other international firms. This means you may get less work, and less opportunities to learn. Having done 3/4 seats in Dubai, I came across CC much more often, and actually don’t think I came across A&O a single time in either transactional or disputes work.

Just my two cents. Hope it’s helpful and best of luck.

(42)(1)

I've done the rounds

I have been fortunate, well perhaps unfortunate, to have worked at a MC firm and US firm in London, and a MC firm and US firm in Dubai.

To answer the question quickly = CC.

CC is currently doing better financially and arguably getting the more interesting mandates across the board (corporate, projects, finance etc..). In Dubai they have a very diverse group of lawyers (more so than A&O) but they are lacking female leadership in the ME.

If you wanted to qualify into London at either firm after the TC – its not going to happen. That said you could likely move to another firm on qualification who focuses on the ME from London (and there are plenty).

The transition from UAE back to London is really not as hard as some people in this thread have made out. Just build your network internally and externally.

If Dubai/ME is your forever home then both firms will put you in a very good position. If London is where you want to be I do think it worth getting a TC in London and spending a year or two there on qualification.

On the personal side – living and working in Dubai affords a much better work life balance and allows you to save more cash – which in turn gives you more life options later on – like leaving the law and taking a lesser salary.

(9)(22)

Frog

I would usually say “having lived and worked in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for 6 of the previous 8 years, do not go there”. My problem is that I’m slowly coming to realise that people accept jobs in the Middle East for the same reason people fall for MLMs: greed, voluntary ignorance of the world, laziness, and feeling entitled to something “more” than what you’re worth. In that vein, anybody who goes there gets exactly what they deserve.

(24)(3)

Hal

So true. People who work in places like Dubai, Cayman and BVI earn money out of all proportion to their ability and professional standing. The result is stagnation and unhappiness.

(34)(3)

Beast

Yeah, earning money out of all proportion to one’s ability and professional standing is really dumb isn’t it… no idea why people do it…

(6)(38)

Anon

It’s dumb because people worry about how they are perceived. Nobody wants others to think they are paid far more than their abilities and market standing deserve. It leads to feelings of insecurity and therefore unhappiness. That is why lawyers and others in places like Dubai, Cayman, etc, are so insecure.

(26)(1)

Beast

You sound like someone who is trying to make themselves feel better about staying in a 40% tax jurisdiction and has never worked abroad. All lawyers are paid more than their abilities deserve (City trainees get paid more than teachers and nurses, for example). And, of course, that’s concentrated when you don’t pay tax. But everyone knows and recognises that! Believe me, being able to save six figures a year and still travel business class does not lead to insecurity and unhappiness, but feel free to continue thinking that it’s a really depressing existence in the Middle East if you want. One can’t argue with the ignorant.

hipppy1

As lawyers, we’re all paid out of all proportion to our ability and professional standing. If you don’t want stagnation and unhappiness, don’t become a lawyer. ?

(7)(23)

MoFo assoc

The comments about greed, lack of character, and “basic” needs are really out of place. The question asked about CC and A&O in the ME and not a psycho analysis of an employee based in Dubai.

Another thing to consider is that COVID hasn’t really great opportunities to become a trainee – so having these options to begin with isn’t all too bad.

Just do your research on awards from chambers and legal 500 and stay away from either firm that has a heavy construction dispute team because that is a bottomless pit with no upside potential.

(10)(18)

Major Tom

Can you elaborate on the construction disputes point?

(1)(1)

anon

Not MoFo assoc but I have experience in this area. There’s a lot of construction disputes work in the ME but the value of the legal work is dubious at best. No contractor wants to pay their lawyers and it can be difficult to get bills paid. Blood from a stone and all that. If you qualify in that area you will be busy, and you will have the opportunity to progress in a construction disputes career in the ME, but your annual billable value will plateau and therefore so will your remuneration. Value in construction law work in that region will be non-contentious construction risk advisory for potential project funders. That’s assuming there’s an oil recovery and people want to keep building in the region, which many of us question.

(0)(0)

Beast

It’s very amusing to see the number of people suggesting a life of 40% tax, commute on the tube and flat sharing/living outside of Zone 3 in a shoe box is somehow better than getting a 10 minute taxi to work, great weather for 9 months of the year and the option to retire after 10 years due to not paying any income tax. As for the lazy and ill informed comments about quality of work, don’t let the snobs fool you, they’ve never worked abroad and are just trying to feel better about themselves for having a shockingly poor standard of living (in relative terms). A trainee/NQ in London is a glorified photocopier in a big firm; abroad, because the teams are smaller you’ll be given more responsibility earlier and will, therefore, learn more.

In terms of which firm out of CC and A&O, A&O has better quality work.

(20)(33)

Anon

A&O doesn’t have better quality work, at all.

(0)(2)

Beast

Er… ok…. ?

Bet you’ve never even worked in the UAE!

(3)(0)

Realist

Thanks, this is one of the most helpful and mature responses. I’m 1 PQE in the London office of a US firm, and I’d certainly consider escaping cold, failing Brexit Britain and its punitive tax rates.

I’m amazed at the number of apparently extraordinarily bitter people out there who are downvoting comments about Dubai, despite apparently never having been there, let along worked there.

(6)(22)

Beast

I’m glad someone on here finally has the intelligence to see the reality!

I’d suggest waiting until you’re 2PQE, by which time you’ll have made all the usual post qualification mistakes and learnt enough to be able to move to a different firm without feeling too out of your depth. If your current firm has a Dubai or Abu Dhabi office that you could move to, that would be ideal, otherwise, once Covid has calmed down, I’d suggest speaking to recruiters around April/May next year.

Good luck!

(1)(0)

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