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Practising Law in Dubai for Foreign Nationals

Four Essential Qualities for Aspiring Lawyers

Lawyers from around the globe are frequently found in Dubai-based firms due to the many business areas linked to law in the UAE such as, Islamic finance, banking, construction and energy.

If you are a foreign national, practising law in the UAE, or Dubai in particular, requires adherence to certain procedures and guidelines.

An overview of these are listed below, with links to helpful websites.


1. Dubai’s Legal System

The UAE operates a civil law jurisdiction, which has been heavily influenced by French, Roman, Egyptian and Islamic laws.

There are two legal systems in use, both with their own courts and laws; Sharia and civil. They operate independently of each other, and cover different aspects of life, society and law.

Each Emirate has its own federal court, and Dubai has its own judicial framework.

The UAE is a federation of seven Emirates (states) and power is distributed between the federal government based in Abu Dhabi, and the other Emirates.

In order to practice law you must satisfy, not only the requirements of the individual Emirate you wish to work within, but also the federal requirements.

Additionally, there are ‘free zones’ throughout the UAE, such as, Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) which have their own rules governing legal practice.

Dubai lawyers can work in a number of legal forms. They may work as solo practitioners, in partnerships or as part of a civil company.


2. Federal and Local Law

The UAE federal law only recognises three types of lawyer:

• Practising lawyers

• Non-practising lawyers

• Lawyers in training

Of these, only practising lawyers are able to provide legal services within the UAE

Local law can be performed by foreign nationals, but only a Dubai nationals may appear in a Dubai court.

Regulations in Dubai governing the legal profession, refer to two categories of lawyer:

• Legal Consultants – permitted to deliver legal opinions and advice, register and liquidate companies, draft contracts, and represent clients at arbitration tribunals.

• Legal Advocates – can additionally to those services listed above, plead and represent clients before Dubai courts, judicial authorities, security departments, and conciliation tribunals

The DIFC has two separate registers of practitioners – a register for law firms operating in the jurisdiction, and a register for individuals with rights of audience before the DIFC courts.


3. Obtaining a Practising Licence in Dubai

For foreign lawyers and firms, obtaining a licence to practise takes place at Emirate level.

Firms in Dubai must be licenced by the Legal Affairs Department and registered with the Department of Economic Development.

Many foreign law firms operate within free zones such as, the DIFC, and if your firm is to be situated here, you’ll need to register with the Dubai Financial Services Authority, and you must appoint a local service agent to help you with licencing and permits.

Local lawyers (eligible to represent at court) must be a UAE national, 21 years of age, hold a certificate from an accredited university or higher education institute, and have carried out at least one year of continuous practical legal training.

Licences must be renewed annually.


4. Continuous Professional Training Requirements for Lawyers in Dubai

The Department of Legal Affairs of the Government of Dubai require all legal advisors, registered in the Emirate of Dubai, to complete continuous professional development activities in order to maintain a high standard within the industry, and meet the changing needs of clients.

Each lawyer must gain sixteen points of Continuous Legal Professional Development (CLPD) training, eight of which must be from compulsory CLPD activities, and another eight (split into, at most, two groups of four) which must be acquired from approved professional development activities chosen by the Legal Counsel.