Opportunity that rose from the desert

By Daron Jacks

MLS alumna Anneliese Reinhold has carved out a distinguished legal career in the Middle East, the centre of a dynamic and emerging legal market.

From beginnings as a solicitor in Melbourne to general counsel for a Dubai-based telecommunications giant, and board member of the Association of Corporate Counsel, Anneliese Reinhold (LLB, 1988) says her success stems from the broad education offered at Melbourne Law School.

“People do recognise that it’s a very good university and it’s a good degree to have and I think that helps you,” Ms Reinhold says.

With opportunities now growing in the Middle East, Ms Reinhold’s move to the region followed a holiday to the UK in the early 90s, that inspired her to one day relocate and pursue her legal career there.

An in-house stint with Cable & Wireless Optus in Sydney helped with obtaining a transfer to London in time for the dotcom boom, arriving there in 1997 with her husband.

As the boom descended into a crash, opportunities in the telecommunications sector in Europe and the US declined. The Middle East, however, was on the cusp of its own boom as investment in the region began to increase.

“My husband and I thought it would be a good idea to follow the work opportunities,” Ms Reinhold says.

“So he went to Bahrain and I went to Qatar, which was around the time of the Gulf War, and I started work there a couple of weeks after they’d stopped running the Gulf War from the very hotel that I stayed in. That was pretty intense.”

Ms Reinhold took a position as group legal counsel for Qatar Telecom and spent three years as part of an executive team that transformed QTel from a domestic supplier to an international player.

It was an interesting and challenging posting, because it is still a very conservative country with a very small expat population. Back then no one had heard of it, and it didn’t really have the infrastructure that it has today to support the expats living there.

After three years living in Doha, Ms Reinhold moved to the United Arab Emirates to become general counsel and senior vice-president for Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company PJSC. The telecommunications firm based in Dubai is also known as “du”.

She says on moving to the Middle East she was pleased to find a culture that treated women with more respect than she was used to.

It is one of the big positives about coming to the Middle East. I was expecting that I might have a difficult time as one of very few women in a professional environment, but it has been the opposite.

“Although it is a male-dominated culture, it is not macho. I had more issues with such types of business cultures in Australia and the UK to be frank.”

While the UAE is a global business centre with a heavy focus on its international status, it is still driven by Arabic culture and many newcomers struggle to adapt.

“Not everyone enjoys working in this environment. The ones that really succeed here are the ones that can be effective but at the same time go with the flow.”

“When people come here they have to be careful not to be deceived or fooled by the fact that on the surface it looks very western,” she says.

“It is very developed, so people can be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking the business culture is the same as everywhere else.

“It is a Middle Eastern business culture and environment – so do your research on exactly how it is different and talk to people and get a feel for it so that you don’t inadvertently offend people and consequently be less effective.”

To accommodate the different cultural approaches in this emerging legal hub, the Dubai government has established a Continuing Development Legal Professional Development Program that all private practice lawyers must complete through an accredited program with the Dubai Legal Affairs Department. The program equips them with the necessary skills to obtain excellence within the profession and brings them in line with global best practice and standards.

This is part of broader efforts to establish a legal environment that will enhance confidence for international businesses to operate in the country and resolve their disputes there.

“There are a lot more legal firms coming here and
I know the Dubai government is very committed to making this a regional legal hub,” Ms Reinhold says.

“The Dubai Legal Affairs Department has recently introduced a very comprehensive continuing professional development program, that is compulsory for lawyers in private practice. There’s never been anything like that before in this jurisdiction.”

A parallel legal system has been set up in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) that is based more on common law principles, with legislation and proceedings in English.

So there really is a lot being done – not only with litigation but also with arbitration law – they want to make Dubai an arbitration hub as well.

She believes working in the UAE legal industry is relatively easy for Australians to adapt to even though it follows a civil law system, rather than a common law system as in Australia.

“It is a lot easier than you imagine to work internationally as a lawyer. I was surprised by that when I left Australia,” she says.
Ms Reinhold’s work was recognised when her team received the Law Society of England & Wales’ Lexcel practice management accreditation.

She has also served the legal community in the region over the years through her work with the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC).

The Middle East is an environment that offers exciting opportunities for a rewarding career. It is not uncommon, Ms Reinhold says, for many to set a deadline only to extend their time working there.

“I think maybe I’ll move on in another two years, and two years never comes,” she jokes.

Banner image: Dubai sunset
Image credit: Flickr

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 15, June 2016.
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