Six months ago I was sat in BLP’s London office on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon in May when an email went around to all the trainees requesting applications to do seats abroad.
We had just had a video call with the current trainee in Abu Dhabi and you almost had to wear sunglasses to not be blinded by the sunlight emanating through the TV screen. I looked out of my window to see grey clouds and the tea-coloured Thames and thought a bit of sun could be nice. Three months later I landed at Abu Dhabi airport, walked out into 49 degree heat and couldn’t quite believe the contrast.
I am now half way through my seat in Contentious Construction in BLP’s Abu Dhabi office (it has cooled down since my arrival to a brisk 30 degrees). Most of the work we do here involves large international arbitrations throughout the Middle East as well as smaller, local construction disputes.
There are so many real estate, power and infrastructure projects going on in the region that the inevitable disputes that arise from the construction of these projects keep us extremely busy. I assist associates and partners on the larger international arbitrations in the same way a trainee would do in London.
I take more responsibility on the smaller disputes that are generally within the UAE. This has meant dealing with local courts, local bodies and local lawyers here which has certainly helped my development.
The main difference to being in the UK is that the UAE has a federal legal system that is still developing. There are new “off-shore” jurisdictions within an Emirate (for example, the DIFC in Dubai) where the enforcement of arbitral awards has not really been tried and tested. As a trainee, therefore, you are always kept on your toes as you may be working on disputes that have no precedent in the region.
One of my concerns before coming on secondment to Abu Dhabi was that the social life here may be a little quiet compared to London. However I have been proven completely wrong. There is rarely a weekend where there is not some kind of event, whether that be a beach music festival, Dubai 7s, polo, golf tournaments or the F1 (the highlight of the Abu Dhabi social calendar). There is a strange contrast between the Middle East way of life and the ex-pat lifestyle. You can dive into both as much or as little as you want. One weekend you can be camping in a Bedouin desert camp whilst the next you can be on a yacht party watching F1 cars speed past. You also have the rest of the Middle East at your doorstep.
I would really recommend doing a seat abroad. I applied to come to the Middle East because I thought it was about as different to London as you can get. I have certainly had to adapt to different working cultures and experienced things that I could never do back home.