Big horizons: a seat in Dubai

Allen & Overy's Paul Hill spent six months of his training contract in Dubai during an tumultuous period for businesses in the Middle East

Why does Allen & Overy have an office in Dubai?

The Middle East is a highly significant part of our global network. Given its importance as a hub for the international flow of capital, it's strategically key for us to have a strong presence in the region. We also have offices in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and an association with a firm in Saudi Arabia. The Dubai office opened in 1978 and we've been able to develop alongside our clients since then as the region has experienced significant economic growth.

How does the Dubai office compare to the London office?

The Dubai office is significantly smaller so it's impossible for you to be as specialised a lawyer there as you are in London. In London we have the manpower for every aspect of a deal to be done by a different person, but in a smaller office you've got to be able to turn your hands to many types of work. The smaller size of the Dubai office also means that everybody knows each other very well, which isn't possible in London. But the Dubai office has the same feel and mentality as the London office. Everybody is sharp and professional, and the working environment is incredibly supportive - everyone's got time to help other people.

What kind of work were you doing?

I was expecting to be involved with project finance work but because of financial difficulties in the Emirates during the time I was there, I spent most of my time on huge, high-profile restructurings. These included that of Dubai World, the investment company owned by the Government of Dubai, and also those of Dubai World's property and dry docks businesses. It was great to see in detail how business is done in the region.

What did you learn about being a lawyer in Dubai that you wouldn't have learnt in London?

When you work in a different jurisdiction you look at what you do from another point of view which can help you spot where you could make improvements by doing things differently. Experiencing another culture also adds to your repertoire in terms of soft skills such as how you engage with your clients, work out what they want and manage their expectations.

Did you find anything about being abroad difficult?

The practical side of moving - like banks accounts and visas - was made very easy for me by our specialised secondments team. The HR team in Dubai were very helpful and experienced in this respect too. I was also given a booklet produced by previous trainees with lots of useful information about Dubai, including the small things that help you settle in like where the nearest supermarket is. I had a ready-made group of friends in Dubai - there were three other trainees from Allen & Overy there at the same time, and some from other firms too.

What was the best thing about being in Dubai?

The experience of living and working in a different country. I didn't spend much time travelling as a student, so getting to know a different culture and way of thinking has broadened my horizons.