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DP World couldn’t have hired its first general counsel at a better time. After George Dalton took the post a year and a half ago, he first helped the company, owned by the government of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, weather a political storm over its acquisition of several port facilities in the United States. Dalton next played a key role in DP World’s recent auction of its American assets. Dalton said he’s fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. “Dubai itself is in growth mode-real estate, hotels, airlines, the maritime industry, you name it, it’s an exciting place to be,” the general counsel said. “And the intellectual stimulation on the business side at DP World has been great-a lot of work, but great fun,” Dalton said. The boom is on in Dubai, the Persian Gulf emirate of 1.2 million, and the help-wanted sign is out for corporate counsel. According to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 17% of Fortune 500 companies now have offices there. Mark Anderson, a London-based consultant for Laurence Simons International Recruitment Ltd., said that in the past year he’s placed attorneys in the Dubai offices of Motorola Inc., Nokia Corp. and Unilever PLC. Recently, Laurence Simons and Major, Lindsey & Africa, the U.S.-based recruiter, listed a total of more than 20 in-house openings in Dubai on legal Web sites. Governments hiring Multinationals aren’t the only ones hiring, however. Government-owned entities such as Dubai Holding, Emaar Properties and Emirates Airlines have been adding to their legal staffs, too. Locals say that Emirates Airlines (which declined to comment for this article) has the largest law department in the city, with about 10 attorneys. DP World tapped Dalton in 2005 after it acquired his previous employer, Charlotte, N.C.-based CSX World Terminals LLC. “I liked what I saw after visiting a few times, and with my children off at college, my wife and I decided we were at a good point in our lives to make a move,” said Dalton, 55. He hired DP World’s second in-house lawyer in December, and plans to add a few more attorneys this spring. Like Silicon Valley in the dot-com era, Dubai offers in-house lawyers the chance to jump rungs on the corporate ladder. According to Ziad Zarka, a Dubai-based attorney with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., “Opportunities are here for [in-house attorneys] in their late 30s and 40s to establish themselves as a regional or general counsel, as opposed to [waiting until] their early 50s [to get those jobs] in the United States.” After a decade working in-house in America for Shell Oil Co. and USAA, the 38-year-old Zarka moved to Dubai in 2004, becoming Bristol-Myers’ regional legal director last year. The rapid growth in Dubai’s in-house market hasn’t been without its problems. Daniel Panitz, the New York-based director of business development at Major Lindsey, cites the “sticker shock” some companies receive when faced with paying housing stipends in Dubai’s overheated real estate market, which has prices rivaling New York and London. American attorneys are also at a disadvantage compared to British lawyers if they take an in-house job in Dubai, since U.S. citizens have to pay income tax on their earnings but U.K. residents don’t. While businesses are drawn to Dubai for a variety of reasons, the tax benefits are key. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also vice president of the United Arab Emirates’ Supreme Council, has created several free-trade zones in which corporate and personal income taxes are virtually nonexistent. Unlike most of its Middle Eastern neighbors, which require foreign companies to engage in costly partnerships with local distributors, Dubai allows multinationals to set up shop on their own, said Yazid Tamimi, a regional counsel for FLAG Telecom Holdings Ltd. (A Jordanian citizen who was trained in the United States, Tamimi previously worked in the now-defunct Dubai office of Bryan Cave.) Liberal culture Another attraction for global companies: Dubai’s relatively liberal cultural attitudes. “You can go to the beach or mall and see women covered from head to toe [in a hijab], or in a miniskirt,” Bristol-Myers’ Zarka said. And though the city is in the center of the turbulent Middle East, Zarka said it’s an oasis of safety. Two years ago, Zarka was having dinner at an upscale local restaurant when Sheikh Mohammed entered like any other patron. “I don’t know a leader anywhere in the world who can eat in a restaurant without any form of security,” said Zarka. But a few observers are concerned that Dubai’s progress from a dusty backwater to a bustling metropolis has been too fast. “Sometimes I wonder if Dubai is the land of people who don’t know what they’re doing,” said Tamimi, who has worked in the Middle East for more than 10 years. He worries that Dubai’s economy is overly reliant on a construction boom that won’t last forever: “It’s not a real economy . . . .Once you scratch the surface, there’s hardly anything underneath.”

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