Lawyers from the Indian subcontinent are among the least sought after in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and they are among the lowest paid in their profession compared to their Western counterparts.
A new survey conducted by Tessera Executive Search in partnership with the Dubai Corporate Counsel Group (DCCG) found that the highest paid lawyers in the UAE are those qualified in North America, followed closely by England and Wales.
However, for the post of a company's head of legal department, an England and Wales qualification placed one at the top of the pay scale, a DCCG statement said.
Lawyers who qualified in the Indian subcontinent remain the lowest paid on average.
"By and large, lawyers who qualified in the US or Europe, including the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, are paid more than those from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region or the subcontinent," said Elizabeth Williams, senior partner and legal practice head at Tessera Executive Search.
"This year, however, the pay gap is less marked than in 2007," she said.
According to Williams, Western-qualified, bilingual Arabic-English lawyers are the most sought after and command the highest salaries with packages in some cases reaching 244,000 dirhams ($66,310) per month.
However, on an average, salaries of lawyers in this Gulf nation, especially in the banking and financial services sector, are on the rise.
The survey found that the average salary for the head of a company's legal department now stood at 82,000 dirhams ($22,327) a month.
While last year's survey results showed the real estate sector paying some of the highest salaries at non-head of legal department level, this year has seen a shift to some of the highest salaries been paid in the banking and financial services, IT and telecom sectors.
The survey, which covered 194 lawyers across various organisations in the UAE, found that salaries of 130,000 dirhams ($35,396) to over 150,000 dirhams ($40,842) per month are becoming less unusual with 20 percent of heads of legal departments now being paid more than 100,000 dirhams ($27,225) a month.
"The salary increases since last year are due in part to a significant shortage of qualified lawyers in the market and the high demand for in-house lawyers in the UAE as shown by the fact that more than 75 percent of heads of department plan to recruit and expand their departments, especially in Abu Dhabi with its dramatic expansion plans," Justin A. Connor, acting chairman of DCCG, said in the statement.
He pointed out that other drivers behind pay increases include the increased cost of living and the depreciation of the US dollar, which reduce the value of compensation packages, putting further upward pressure on salaries.
"We expect the war for talent to continue with salaries likely to rise even further, especially for those with applicable regional experience," he added.
The survey also found that UAE employers pay for experience, showing a direct correlation between salary and the number of years since qualifying as a lawyer, otherwise as post-qualification experience (PQE).
The average salary for lawyers who qualified less than four years earlier is 31,000 dirhams ($8,439), with the highest salary reported in this range being 66,000 dirhams ($17,968) in the banking and financial services sector.
The highest salary reported for the 5-7 years PQE range is 94,000 dirhams ($25,590) per month, again in the banking and finance sector.
In the 8-10 years PQE range, the highest salary reported is 115,000 dirhams ($31,307) a month, and this figure appeared both in banking and financial services sector and in regional conglomerates.
Most of the respondents to the survey said that they were satisfied with their roles and compensation.