On Secondment in Dubai

Following on from Mehdi’s post regarding his experiences as a trainee in Dubai, we caught up with another of our trainees, Calum Thom, to find out more about his recent move to our Middle East office….When did you get to Dubai and how long was your secondment?The third seat of my traineeship was spent in Pinsent Masons’ Middle East office in Dubai. My secondment was six months long; I managed to catch the tail end of the summer heat in August and departed for the UK in March. It was certainly a cold and harsh winter!What attracted you to the opportunity?Pinsent Masons offers lots of attractive secondment opportunities which are open to trainees but this was the first time that a corporate seat in an overseas office was offered to trainees. I, of course, jumped at the chance. Apart from the initial glamour of working in Dubai, I knew that the challenge of working in a different jurisdiction would benefit my skills base as a lawyer.A key attraction of joining Pinsent Masons is its ability to service and attract clients from all corners of the world. The Middle East remains (despite the recent global recession) a major trading hub between the East and West, and the ability to gain first hand experience of the international issues facing our clients was a key driver for me.What were you nervous about?It is always difficult to leave a team that you really enjoy working with and move to a new team, regardless of where it is located. Our colleagues have a reputation for being very open and approachable, and the corporate team in Dubai made it very easy for me to fit in to my new role quickly and smoothly.How did your living arrangements work when you were out there?The logistics involved with the move to Dubai could not have run more smoothly. Everything was taken care of, from my collection from the airport, to my accommodation. I stayed in the trainee apartment which overlooked the stunning Dubai Marina: the view reminded me that I was no longer in the UK!What sort of matters did you work on whilst you were there?I had the opportunity to be involved in a wide variety of work. From assisting the UK corporate team with due diligence of UAE companies to researching issues such as licensing, and even project managing an establishment of a joint venture entity in Qatar.The seat offered me a fantastic opportunity to work with colleagues and clients from different parts of the world. I developed an understanding of a different and often perplexing legal system (it’s split into the mainland and several different special economic free zones – each with its own set of rules and procedures).Was there anything specific that made you work differently?One of the major differences compared with the UK is the lack of transparency when it comes to information on companies. Official documentation is near impossible to get hold of and procedures are less than transparent. I had to build up rapport with a number of officials at the Ministries and Authorities who had the knowledge and authority to assist with legal and procedural issues.How did that impact your work/thinking?The legal system can be thin in places and where there is legislation, often the system is not always established enough to follow through with implementation. As a result, you have to be able to think commercially about problems and provide advice in a way that satisfies the client even where there is no definitive legal answer.Would you recommend Dubai to other trainees? Why?Absolutely! The combination of international experience and the fact that lawyers from different departments work so closely together, provides a unique opportunity for any lawyer, not just a trainee. I have just been fortunate that I have had this opportunity so early in my career.What did you enjoy most about working in Dubai?With 35 lawyers working in five different practice groups, the Dubai office has a collegiate feel and there is a definite ‘work hard play hard’ attitude. As a trainee on a short-term secondment to a new office, I could not have asked for anything more. The work was exciting and fast paced at times, and our colleagues out in the Dubai office were extremely welcoming. And living in Dubai?To cater for western expats, Dubai hotels host champagne brunches during the weekend. The natural desire to over indulgence on the vast array of international cuisine available in the Middle East means that you often hear the phrase “the Dubai Stone” being banded about – hopefully not directed at you! I managed to avoid this fate by making the most of the beautiful weather and playing tennis, and golf on the many of the courses that Dubai has become famous for (unfortunately my most frequently used club was the sand-wedge!)Are you glad to be back in the UK?They really did have to tear the seat from beneath me and push me out the door! That said I’m back in the UK and excited about the new challenges of my new seat and beyond.