Ziad Salloum is a partner with Salloum & Partners, an Emirati law firm and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lindsay and Ziad chat about the current and very diverse state of the market in the Emirates, what it’s like to run a law firm when you hold yourself to an extremely high standard, and the best way that Ziad has discovered to quiet his mind.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I’m your host, Lindsey Griffiths, executive director of the International Lawyers Network. Our guest this week is Ziad Salloum of Salloum & partners in Abu Dhabi. Ziad, welcome. We’re so happy to have you back with us this week on the podcast. Why don’t you take a couple minutes to tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm and your practice.
Ziad: Thanks, Lindsay. It’s nice to be back on the podcast. So yes, my name is Ziad Salloum. I’m a partner with Salloum & Partners. We’re a boutique firm. We’re set up 43 years ago, 1980 by my dad who retired last year. Yes, so we’re a corporate commercial practice primarily. We do, I don’t know, everything from banking, finance, insurance, we operate in healthcare, and so on. We’re known as problem solvers rather than problem makers, which is nice. And our focus is to try and find practical solutions to particularly complex problems, that drives me very much. So yes, I enjoy that part of things. So yes, I’d say we’ve resolved over 6,000 disputes since we were set up. And for a small team that’s not so bad. We’re thirty people total at the moment, about fifteen [inaudible 00:01:41]. So that’s a sizable chunk if you go by year right, a sizable number of disputes resolved. And dispute resolution, whether arbitration, local litigation, so on that represents about, I don’t know, 60% ish of our practice. And the rest of it is transactional work and advisory work. So, we’re very much known for finding solutions where others are having difficulty producing stuff that works. Yes.
Lindsay: Fantastic. And how about your practice in particular?
Ziad: Oh, well I’m now running the firm, right? So, it’s a bit difficult to continue working in a particular field or whatnot when you have to run the firm. But I’m trying to juggle that and kind of keep my fingers in all the different pies because each and every aspect gives you something that you can use somewhere else. So, what you learn in dispute resolution makes you kind of approach a problem on a transactional side very differently. And the reverse is true as well. So, I like having the ability to take these things on board from one side to the other. That visibility also keeps me engaged.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, what would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment, and how are you working to overcome that?
Ziad: My biggest challenge is how do I clone myself. Well, it’s kind of partially true. So, my father, his mentoring style put it that way, I’ve actually had two mentors, my father and my former boss in the former life, I was a banker, you may know. And then I converted to law much later. So, my first boss was very, very, very particular, more so than my dad. Very detail oriented about as much as my dad is. So yes, he once had me repeat it was a half-page email more than twenty-five times. So, everything from where you place the comma, commas to everything. He taught me that discipline, that rigor of focusing on the language and simplifying things as much as you can and going straight to the point and not saying something that you don’t mean. I got that from him first. And then obviously in law you really need that sort of skillset. And my father put pressure on me like no one… Let’s say the equivalent of the amount of stress and pressure he puts on maybe ten other people.
So, the skillset I’ve built as a result, trying to satisfy his view of how things should be means I often looks from my colleagues of only you could have produced this or where something along those lines. So, it’s sort of getting the team on board or understanding why I’m kind of like five steps ahead and I’m focusing on this. It’s like, why are we talking about this now that’s going to happen in six months. I’m like, ‘yes, but I want to plan my dispute. I want to plan the case out. I want to get whatever it is’. So, my challenge is there, because I’ve got so much on my back at the moment, trying to offload some of that and in a way where I’m not being extremely controlling, because I’m not the easiest person to work with. I can very much appreciate that. So, my biggest challenge is how do I overcome my own concerns, my own fears on this, and accept that someone can do something else differently than me. It’s still fine, it’s perfectly fine. There may be a different way and it might even be better, but it’s not how I would’ve done it. And overcoming that is my problem at the moment. That’s my biggest challenge.
Lindsay: I can really appreciate that. That’s very much how I am. Delegating and appreciating that someone else may have a different approach and that approach is not necessarily wrong.
Lindsay: That’s difficult. So, talk to us about the current state of the market and what that means for you and your clients.
Ziad: Yes. Current state of the market. It depends on which markets.
Lindsay: That’s right.
Ziad: Let’s see. Really very much depends on the marketplace. Some sectors are flying high like real estate at the moment, for example, is sky-high again. Construction is strangely enough, it’s still a buyer’s market in a sense. So, construction companies or contractors still have a lot of problems there in terms of it’s basically a take it or leave it kind of affair. If they don’t take it, there’s another contractor who is dying for the work, who’s going to run around and run along and grab it. So, it very much depends on which side you’re on. Oil and gas is doing reasonably well. There’s lots of expansion and push for the renewable energy side.
So, I think one of the biggest solar power stations is either online or will be online soon in the region. Yes so it’s fairly active from that front. In terms of M&A, for example, you don’t think to see quite a lot of that so much. There’s a lot of consolidation happening in the sectors. So, you get to see a lot of banks, over the last few years there have been a lot of banks merging. A lot of the big players in other sectors are also consolidating. So retail, for example, in Abu Dhabi, is not doing as well as let’s say in Dubai. So, depending on the situation, it is very much different from one sector to another. And we’re seeing the ups and downs that our clients are going through. And for some it’s a rollercoaster. For others, it’s steady, they’re doing okay and they’re continuing to do okay. So that diversity is a bit odd. It’s difficult to summarize the whole thing. If you look at just the GDP projections or whatnot, the country’s overall doing very well. But that doesn’t necessarily tell you the full story. It’s not representative of all the different sectors. And since we work in so many sectors, we get to see all of it. And yes, it’s kind of interesting.
Lindsay: Which is really helpful for your clients because then you can advise them in all of those places and also help them predict sort of what’s, not predict, but at least help them in the places that their businesses are going.
Ziad: Yes, that’s the end. That’s the whole.
Ziad: Yes. One thing I’ve noticed, one trend I’ve noticed is that whereas a lot of times before, I mean you still have a sector, a portion of let’s say the population that still kind of takes that view old school type if I dare. But then you have another group increasingly now that looks at lawyers in the sense of, ‘yeah, it’s best to double check that we have taken care of a lot of these risks before the event occurs, so to speak, that we’re kind of protected or covered to a certain extent’. So that’s good. That’s nice. Previously it’s like, ‘yeah, we don’t need to involve the lawyers’. Yes. And then when you’re in the hole you’re like, ‘okay, how do I get out of here?’
Lindsay: An expensive mistake.
Ziad: Expensive. Exactly. It’s an expensive mistake. So got that change in mindsets only comes with time and with a bit of, if your focus is constantly on just your day to day, even if you want to, you’re not going to have time to think of how I can optimize and minimize my risks and all that stuff. But if you have a decent management team around you trained abroad or locally, whatever it is, but with a decent amount of solid experience and that you can rely on, then as the, let’s say the visionary principle owner of this entity, you can sit back and go, ‘yeah, okay, I need to focus on this area and strengthen these risks’. Or you can analyze your company and see where does it is lacking, what are the recurring problems that you’re facing? And then identify how to resolve those. So yes, it’s interesting to see how culture changes over time. Yes.
Lindsay: Yes. And I think being able to be business partners for companies as lawyers has really become a much more critical piece of business these days.
Ziad: Yes. It’s nice to be able to walk a lockstep with a client and be able to assist them and see as they transition and change and as you change and grow, and experience new things and you bring more things to the table and so on. Yes, it’s always nice.
Lindsay: Yes, absolutely. So, what would you say is the biggest area of the law that you’re curious about at the moment? And why is that?
Ziad: When you say that, I’m curious about, is that something that I’d like to learn from?
Ziad: Or learn more about rather? I mean, there’s so much, right?
Lindsay: I know, that’s good.
Ziad: Why I became a lawyer. It’s space for knowledge, and I love it. Every time you have to deal with, work with a client or deal with something and a problem, you have to understand what they do and why they do it and how they operate. So, there’s always something you learn. You learn about construction, you learn about medicine, you learn about everything. There’s so much to learn. I can’t stop. And law is something you, I don’t know if you could ever say that you master it. There’s always going to be something that you can learn. And actually, I found that looking at the world of local law through the lens of a foreign lawyer is actually eye-opening.
So, we were involved in a recent case, like several hundred million dollars at stake. My client won, which is nice, but it was a case being run at the Abu Dhabi Global Market at the ADGM. So, it’s an English style court, common law. And so, we had English barristers and English lawyers whom we were working with and advising them on local law, on the local law aspect. And the sort of questions that you get from an English trained barrister is so very different. They’re going to look at it through the lens of the law that they’re used to and the framework that they’re used to. And it’s so very different to the framework that we apply here, but it does force you to think of the law differently and to consider things that you never would’ve previously or that you took for granted, but you never did the deep dive.
So, I found myself actually going into the history of how the law was actually drafted and why they chose this particular approach over another approach. So, it challenges some of your preconceptions of the law and you end up learning, or at least I did, I ended up learning so much more about the law, and I understand it so much more now than I did before, even though I’ve been practicing it for 15 years now, or longer I think. So, it’s eye-opening, it really is, which is nice. So, there’s that, and then there’s AI and the impact that that’s going to have on our industry.
So that one is something I am interested in. I’m not sure, I’m very curious to see what’s going to happen. I am both excited and terrified. I think on one side I’m excited because it means that our small team can do so much more if we’re able to properly leverage things with AI. And so, it can elevate what we can do as a small team, but we can be more efficient, we can be faster and so on. We can do more work, we can take on much more interesting tasks and offload some of the less interesting stuff, et cetera. But at the same time, yes, I can’t just ignore the real concerns that a few people in the industry at least are talking about. So, it’s an interesting time to be alive, huh?
Lindsay: It sure is. Yes. It sure is. And I agree with you about AI. There are some real positives, but also some really big drawbacks. And I’m interested to see how it will all shake out.
Ziad: And the US is at the center of it. It’s awesome.
Lindsay: We sure are. Yes. So yes, we’ll see how that goes. So, switching gears a little bit, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know. I know it’s a tough question.
Ziad: Yes. Well, yes. Iceberg and all that, right?
Lindsay: I know, that’s right.
Ziad: No. Actually there are few things that relax me or that excite me as much as free diving.
Lindsay: See I did not know that.
Ziad: So, I love going out there. I’ll go down fifteen meters, easy a single breath.
Ziad: Yes. And it’s so much fun. It’s such a completely alien world, and it’s so relaxing and you just calm down and relax. You have to take it easy down there because you have to slow your heartbeat down and all that. And you can see so much and discover so much underwater. Experiences you have with wildlife, extraordinary, whether with puffer fish or cuttlefish or with turtles, even sharks. And I’m so blessed the kids love the water as well. And they love coming out with me. And they’ve started going down. So, some of them, the two eldest can go down to about four meters now, which is nice. So, it’s pretty cool. Yes. So, family trips are usually at the beach, in the water, underwater, and then-
Lindsay: It’s incredible.
Ziad: Yes, it’s pretty cool.
Lindsay: Wow. That is amazing. Yeah, I’ve been watching some documentaries on free diving and that’s really incredible.
Ziad: Yes. The stuff some of these people can do is extraordinary. I’m nowhere near there, nowhere near that. At my peak, I’m nowhere near that at the moment because I’m not really practicing enough anywhere near enough. Right now maybe I can do a minutes and a half, but I could do just under four minutes before.
Ziad: Some of these guys can do almost ten and go down one hundred meters. That’s extraordinary.
Ziad: That’s phenomenal, right? I start at 15 meters, I’m like, that’s it. My mask is squeezing too much, and I don’t want to use up the air. It is just, ah, yes, no, no. But the moment you push past, at some point your lungs are going to be, body’s going to be entered into this spasm. It wants you to breathe. So, it’s going to, you going to do that. And then the trick is, the secret is to push past that. And the moment you push past that and then you plateau, you get this sense of absolute peace, that’s when it gets dangerous. Because you feel like you could just sit there and stay there for hours. There you wait 10, 20, 30 seconds, then you go up.
Lindsay: Wow, that’s amazing.
Ziad: So yes, it’s just kind of training yourself again to push past that reflex that your body has because it doesn’t want to listen to your brain.
Lindsay: Of course, right?
Lindsay: Yes. Right, because your brain wants to breathe.
Ziad: Yep. Yes. Well yes, your body’s reacting on normal thing is going, there should be air here. Where is it? It should be here. Yes. You’ve got to overcome that slowly. And it only comes with practice.
Lindsay: Wow. That’s incredible.
Lindsay: So, what does being part of the ILN mean to you?
Ziad: Oh, quite a lot actually. We’ve been part of the ILN now for what, since 2006. No?
Lindsay: I think so. Yes.
Ziad: So yes. It’s allowed me to one travel to so many amazing places… But this is in no particular order. The more important stuff will come maybe later.
Ziad: But it is a reality, right? So, it’s always nice. Yes. But it’s the people, honestly. It’s just the people. If you have to boil it down, it’s the people you meet. The people are phenomenal. People have so many different backgrounds, and yet we all share the same passions, and we all have something in common. It helps you learn about so many different cultures. And the best bit is when you’re able to work with some of these people that you’ve become friends with over the years. But the biggest takeaway from all of this is definitely the friendships and the people there. They’re exceptional. Yes.
Lindsay: That’s how I feel too. Absolutely. And just to finish, what is one thing that you’re enjoying right now that has nothing to do with work? That’s always the hardest question for everybody.
Ziad: Yes. Well, there are quite a lot of things I’m actually enjoying doing, but if you want something completely random that I’m enjoying doing is planning, and I’ve been planning this on and off for years, but I am currently in the middle of planning again, the equipment and the setup of a forge.
Lindsay: Ah, interesting.
Ziad: Yes. I’ve-
Ziad: … Always wanted to basically work with metal. So yes, so I want to set up a workshop somewhere and get started on that. So now my family and I are traveling for the summer, we’re going to our summer house. And so, I’m ordering a few bits and pieces here and there for stuff that we’ll work on, me and the kids. So, get the workshop started slowly, slowly, and then I’ll build my way up to a forge at some point.
Lindsay: I love that. That’s really cool.
Lindsay: Nice. Well, thank you so much. This has been a wonderful conversation and thank you so much to all of our listeners. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. And we’ll be back next week with our next guest. Thank you so much.
Ziad: Thanks, Lindsay.