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Doing legal business in Dubai
Dubai is a city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The legal profession
There are two categories of lawyer in Dubai.
- offer legal opinions and advice
- register and liquidate companies
- draft contracts
- represent clients at arbitration tribunals
Advocates can provide the same services as legal consultations and represent clients before Dubai courts, judicial authorities, security departments and conciliation tribunals.
A lawyer who’s a national of one of the other Arab Gulf Cooperation Council countries can in certain circumstances get a licence to practise and appear in the Dubai courts.
Practising lawyers must be licensed to practice law in the federal courts by the Ministry of Justice and by the Emiri Diwan in the other Emirates.
Only practising lawyers can provide legal services in the UAE.
To obtain a practising certificate, local lawyers must:
- be a UAE national
- be at least 21 years of age
- hold a certificate from an accredited university or higher institute
- have carried out at least one year of continuous practical legal training
In the past, expatriate Arab lawyers were licensed to practice in the federal courts but the general trend now is to restrict such practice to qualified UAE nationals.
Regulation and representation
Lawyers in mainland Dubai operate at the discretion of the ruler’s court.
Licensing and regulatory requirements differ in other Emirates of the UAE.
Legal system and courts
The UAE operates an essentially civil law jurisdiction heavily influenced by French, Roman, Egyptian and Islamic law.
Common law principles, such as adopting previous court judgments as legal precedents, are generally not recognised.
All emirates have secular courts to adjudicate criminal, civil, and commercial matters and Islamic courts to review family and religious disputes.
Each Emirate has its own federal court of first instance, but Dubai has its own separate judicial framework.
Dubai's court system has three stages:
- Court of First Instance
- Court of Appeal
- Court of Cassation
The UAE has several ‘free zones’, including the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), which has its own rules governing legal practice.
The legal services market
The UAE is a leading global centre for the legal profession and a key market for English law firms. Outside of the UK and Hong Kong it holds the highest number of English and Welsh practising solicitors.
The global economic downturn and subsequent Dubai credit crisis saw the rapid growth of international legal presence slow but not stop, with many firms re-focusing their services in line with demand.
Instability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region triggered by the Arab Spring has led to increased investor activity in more stable countries in the region, including the UAE.
The main hub for legal services remains in Dubai where many international law firms have their regional headquarters and from where they service the wider Gulf region, in particular Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.
The key areas of practice undertaken by firms in Dubai are:
- projects and construction
- banking and finance
- dispute resolution
- commercial property
- corporate/commercial law
- Islamic finance
The UAE is also a member state of the World Trade Organisation and has scheduled commitments to liberalise its legal services sector under the General Agreement on Trade in Services.
Foreign law firms
Foreign law firms must get a professional licence from the Dubai Department of Economic Development.
For a law firm to be based in the DIFC, Ruler’s court approval is required, along with:
- a commercial licence from the DIFC
- being registered as an Ancillary Service Provider by the Dubai Financial Services Authority
Qualifying as a foreign lawyer in Dubai
Foreign lawyers can practice local law, but only a Dubai national can appear in court in Dubai.
Requalification in England and Wales
England and Wales adopt a liberal approach to market access for foreign lawyers and law firms, and London is a global hub for legal services.
The UAE is a recognised jurisdiction for the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), and UAE lawyers can can requalify as solicitors in England and Wales.
The QLTS provides a fast track route by which qualified foreign lawyers can be admitted as solicitors of England and Wales. The QLTS ensures that a requalifying foreign lawyer meets the same standard of knowledge and skill required of a newly qualified solicitor of England and Wales.
For more information on QTLS and the application process visit the Solicitors Regulation Authority website.
Solicitors Qualifying Examination
The QLTS will be replaced by a new route to qualification through the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in autumn 2021.