Rima Hadid, General Counsel for the Emirates Investment Authority, has more than two decades of in-house experience, most notably at two key sovereign wealth funds. Rima moved to Bahrain from Australia in 2003 and has built a distinguished legal career working with stakeholders around the globe. She shares insight on working in different cultures and advice for external legal counsel in this excerpted conversation with Morgan Lewis partner Courtney Nowell and associate Andrea Dougall.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE QUALITIES REQUIRED TO BE A SUCCESSFUL IN-HOUSE LAWYER FOR SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUNDS?
Flexibility, communication skills, and strategic thinking. When you’re dealing with government assets and those levels of bureaucracy, things change quite fast. We could be working on something one week, and it could be a completely different kettle of fish the next. Being able to think strategically and keep an eye on the prize is very important. It’s also key to be able to effectively communicate these changes in real time to your team.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN YOUR TEAM?
Most definitely I look for a collaborative approach and responsiveness. It makes a huge difference when you’re all on the same page, especially when your stakeholders have different targets. The best legal teams help the business teams achieve their goals as opposed to being stumbling blocks. We want to be solution providers and not naysayers.
HOW DO YOU HELP BUILD THAT COLLABORATIVE SPIRIT IN YOUR TEAM?
Networking with colleagues in the same sector is quite important to both strengthening relationships in your larger network and building a good rapport with people in different departments within your own organization. Especially in a small market like Abu Dhabi, , you have to be more intentional and make more of an effort to network.
I also try to teach the importance of understanding the role that emotional intelligence plays across the board because it’s not necessarily something we learn at law school or get taught very early on, but it is crucial in our ability to get deals done.
I can’t understate the importance of mentoring those around us. I’m a great believer in the importance of the legacy that we leave behind. No matter what we do in life, our legacy will be what we did for others. There are small things that we can do to not only help somebody else in their career, but also in turn help the organization that we work for and potentially the country.
YOU HAD AN ALL-FEMALE TEAM WHEN YOU WORKED AT A BAHRAIN SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUND. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WOMEN WORKING IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY?
The first thing that I always tell my team is to never approach a task or walk into any meeting like you have something to prove because you are a woman or a minority in the room. You have a business goal to achieve, and it is easier to stick to the task at hand by tuning out the other noise. Own it, achieve it, and then give yourself a pat on the back for doing it well.
I first moved to Bahrain with a three-week-old daughter, and then moved from Bahrain to the UAE during the pandemic, so I don’t want to downplay how challenging it can be for women especially to balance career responsibilities with other aspects of their life. Having the support of friends, family, neighbors, and my mentor has been very valuable. We can only do the best we can.
WHAT UNIQUE ISSUES SHOULD LAWYERS BE AWARE OF WHEN PROVIDING GLOBAL LEGAL SERVICES?
It’s surprising when you meet external counsel that do not possess cross-cultural awareness. In some of the countries in which we operate, there is a particular cadence or approach to deal-making that is imperative to getting it done. We rely on our external counsel to recognize this. But it only comes with experience. When I first moved from Australia to Bahrain, I didn’t appreciate how different the work environments were. Over my career, I’ve really become attuned to how those differences are magnified in different countries and in government entities versus private entities versus public entities versus international clients.
We also need our counsel to be accessible over time zones. When your team is in Bahrain and Australia, but your lawyers are in the United States, someone is going to be negotiating at 3 am. It is not a pleasant experience, but is necessary when there are key deadlines to meet.
HOW ELSE CAN INTERNATIONAL COUNSEL HELP TO SUPPORT BUSINESS?
We look for counsel who are able to recognize what is potentially good for our organization that goes beyond just giving legal advice. Morgan Lewis has not been shy about offering suggestions borne from experience in the market—that has been priceless in making our organization better. We want that level of partnership in business from all of our external legal counsel.