The below article contains extracts from the Lexology Insights 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council law firm compensation, benefits and billing report. The full report contains compensation, benefit and billing benchmarking data for all levels of fee-earners and business support staff.
Legal market trends and conditions – Qatar (Doha)
Qatar remains firmly engaged in a diplomatic standoff that began in 2017 when GCC neighbours Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Doha and blocked Qatar from their air, sea and land routes. While many had expected this dispute to be short-lived, far from showing any signs of resolution, both sides seem to be entrenched and digging themselves in for a long-term stalemate. The practical implications of this impasse for law firms with operations in Doha have been serious, especially since many previously used their typically small Doha offices as satellites for inbound work to their larger Dubai offices. Such work is now typically being funnelled into London offices in a counter-intuitive but essential move following the collapse of relations between Dubai and Doha. Cross-staffing across the countries has also become arduous and impractical now that travel between the two is effectively long haul, with flights having to connect via Oman or Kuwait.
Even before the onset of the diplomatic crisis, many firms had chosen to close their offices in Doha as they began to find that work levels never reached what they had hoped when they arrived. But with infrastructure development in Qatar now at full tilt ahead of its hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and with Qatari clients increasingly keen on having legal representation in the country itself, those law firms that still have offices in Doha are tending to see fairly healthy levels of activity – some are even looking to expand operations. However, in the longer term, it remains to be seen how much demand for international legal services Qatar can support once the World Cup has come and gone – especially if it remains in dispute with its larger neighbours at that juncture.
Compensation trends – Qatar (Doha)
Provided that associates meet performance targets, they will typically advance up a seniority level in lockstep compensation grids annually. The average annual salary increase for an associate advancing up a level on a lockstep grid in Qatar during the first 10 years of practice is 9%.
Comparing the overall 2019 survey results with those of 2018 yielded the following results for Qatar:
- Average net percentage change in like-for-like junior (0 to 3 PQE) associate compensation levels: -2.0%
- Average net percentage change in like-for-like mid-level (3 to 7 PQE) associate compensation levels: +1.8%
- Average net percentage change in like-for-like senior (7+ PQE) associate compensation levels: +1.9%
- Average overall net percentage change in like-for-like associate compensation levels: +0.8%
Headcount growth – Qatar (Doha)
- Mean annual headcount turnover: 15%
- Percentage of firms surveyed that increased fee-earner headcount during the past year: 43%
- Mean percentage growth in fee-earner headcount (among firms that grew): 25%
- Mean net percentage change in fee-earner headcount (among all firms): +8%
- Median net percentage change in fee-earner headcount (among all firms): 0%
- Mean annual headcount turnover: 12%
- Percentage of firms surveyed that increased support staff headcount during the past year: 43%
- Mean percentage growth in support staff headcount (among firms that grew): 24%
- Mean net percentage change in support staff headcount (among all firms): 0%
- Median net percentage change in support staff headcount (among all firms): +8%
Billing trends -- Qatar (Doha)
Based on the latest Qatar survey, like-for-like average hourly billing rates among associates of the same level at the firms surveyed tended to decrease slightly, by an average of 1% over the past year. It remains fairly standard for individual associates’ billing rates to increase annually, based on increasing seniority. The average annual step increase is 6% during the first nine years of fully qualified professional practice.