The Leadership Series

In this article, Interlink Recruitment joins Sarah Cranston, Head of Business Development and Marketing at Keystone Law Middle East LLP for an in-depth Q&A. Keystone Law Middle East LLP is an innovative and ambitious law firm, working in a challenging market to provide the very best service to clients. In this Q&A we find out more about their flexible working model, growth through challenging times and the legal landscape in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 


Q: What makes the Keystone Law Middle East business model different from the other law firms in the region?

A: As a firm, Keystone has no boundaries and was established out of a desire to do things differently. The firm is more than just an alternative mindset. It is about tangible benefits and real business solutions. It is about infrastructure and modern processes specifically designed around Lawyers individual needs. Keystone’s performance-based remuneration structure is unrivalled in the Middle East and is one of the many benefits attracting much interest. The firm places a distinct focus on innovation, thought leadership, client collaboration and a partnership-free structure.

There are a number of distinguishing features, including:

·         a simple and transparent remuneration structure, rewarding Lawyers with up to 70% of their billings;

·         the infrastructure to work from any location;

·         Lawyers have complete control over their client relationships; and

·         exceptional levels of support from our central office support team.


Q: With the Middle East division of Keystone Law being launched during the pandemic, what were some of the challenges you faced over your growth?  

A: The firm’s objective for year one was to on board 5 Partners to the Middle East platform. That number was surpassed in the first 12 months and the firm is witnessing steady growth. During the pandemic Lawyers at traditional firms were given the taste to experience a better work-life balance. Globally there has been a reluctance from many to return to the traditional ways of working. Keystone Law is one of only a handful of firms operating in the Middle East who can offer incredible flexibility with fantastic remuneration.


Q: As you have recently relocated to Saudi Arabia, how have you found the move and what is the legal landscape like in this location?

A: I am really enjoying living in Riyadh, it is very different for the UAE where I previously lived. The legal landscape in the Kingdom is somewhat different from the UAE, but it is still a highly competitive market. I have spoken to numerous local Lawyers who have commented that Riyadh is a challenging and demanding legal market. The legal landscape is definitely changing and will require to change further to support the economic growth being driven by the Saudi 2030 Vision.


Q: What are some of the differences in the legal market and culture between Saudi Arabia and the UAE?

A: The Middle East has a vibrant and diverse legal market, which is now prime for Keystone’s unique model, offering independence and flexibility to experienced Lawyers.

There are a number of similarities between the UAE and Saudi Arabian legal markets both in terms of culture and business regimes. Both legal markets are highly competitive. Saudi Arabia has fewer international firms in comparison to the UAE where numerous international firms have had a presence for many years.

Saudi Arabia is undergoing significant change under the 2030 Vision which is presenting many new business opportunities and attracting foreign investment. The Kingdom has plans to launch a number of free zones for example, King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD). The aim of these free zones is to diversify their economy and further attract foreign investment, a very similar strategy adopted by the UAE. The UAE has successfully established over 50 free zones. Some of the more well-known include the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) both of which are governed by common legal systems largely based on English Law with their own courts broadly modelled on the English judicial system.


Q: Are there any new practice areas or disciplines that Keystone Law Middle East has recently expanded into?

A: Yes, the firm has recently recruited two new Partners who are specialists in very niche areas. One being aerospace, defence and security and the other being Blockchain and digital assets.


Q: How well has your business model and infrastructure allowed you to maintain business continuity through the pandemic?

A: Very well. Keystone’s model really came into its own during the pandemic. The firm’s unique revolutionary structure is appealing to many Senior Lawyers looking for more freedom and autonomy in their roles. Keystone’s low-overhead costs and the firm’s ability for its Lawyers to work remotely from any location has really ensured business continuity was maintained throughout the pandemic.


Q: With Keystone Law being one of the first law firms to implement a Consultancy model, have you found that this model has made you more adaptable to home working during the pandemic?

A: Yes, definitely. Keystone’s business model is centred around leveraging technology and modern working practices, including the freedom to work from home, the firm’s serviced offices, Lawyers’ home offices, a client’s office or any combination of these.


Q: How has technology changed the way you work and helped to keep things uniform across the Keystone Law Group?

A: The firm places a distinct focus on innovation and Keystone’s IT infrastructure ensures that all employees whether Lawyers or central office staff are fully equipped to work securely and from any location. The firm’s systems ensure privacy while facilitating collaboration.


Q: What are some of the values held at Keystone and how do you maintain these across the business?

A: The firm is very entrepreneurial in its approach to delivering legal services. Lawyers are attracted to Keystone because they are looking for a better way of practising law. Lawyers are not confined by restrictive covenants, fancy titles and everyone benefits from a level-playing field globally.


Q: What are the main practice areas that your Lawyers are focusing on in the Middle East?

A: The firm offers a full-service of legal advice to its clients. We are agnostic in terms of practice area/sector expertise when it comes to recruitment. Competition among our Lawyers does not exist at Keystone. Lawyers very much see other Lawyers as a source of referral work and providing greater potential to collaborate and pitch for larger projects. Two new niche areas of expertise for the firm are aerospace, defence and security and Blockchain and digital assets.


Q: What social events do your Partners have the opportunity to partake in?

A: Due to the pandemic Keystone has not hosted many face-to-face social events, however, the Partners regularly meet for social gatherings. The firm hosts virtual networking events for any Lawyer who has an international focus to their practice, this includes Lawyers from Keystone Law UK and KeyPoint Law (Australia). The firm is looking to introduce some additional social events to its calendar including sporting events, golf days and charity events.


Q: How important is your marketing and social media strategy to create a uniform brand for your firm and Partners, across all locations, both domestic and international?

A: As with any law firm, be that a traditional or alternative model, brand and reputation is hugely important. The BD and marketing teams work together cohesively to ensure uniformity of the firm’s brand globally.


Q: What are the three most important attributes for a Lawyer to have, if they want to join your firm?

A:  An entrepreneurial flare, a passion for practising law and agility, are three attributes that the Keystone looks for in any Lawyer looking to join.


Q: We are aware that you are rapidly expanding, where would you like to see your firm in 2, 5 and 10 years time?

A: The firm hopes to continue to attract high calibre Lawyers to the platform and to expand its regional presence. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are key jurisdictions where the firm is looking to establish a presence in the next 6-12 months.


From everyone here at Interlink Recruitment we would like to thank Sarah Cranston for taking the time to answer our questions in such great detail, providing excellent insight into the Middle East market. We are very fortunate to work with many inspiring law firms around the world and we hope many Lawyers internationally find this article particularly insightful. We look forward to continuing to be a part of incredible growth of Keystone Law Middle East LLP.