Legal market overview
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates bordering the Persian Gulf of which the larger two, Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, are important centres for local and international law firms. The attractions of these two cities to some 60 corporate law firms, half of which have offices in both, lies in the perception that the UAE provides the most stable political base for targeting the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets. The Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), which was established in 2004, has all the characteristics of an offshore financial centre.
Firms such as Allen & Overy LLP, Clifford Chance and Clyde & Co LLP have a longstanding presence in the jurisdiction, but other law firms continue to establish offices. Recent arrivals include Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and Morgan Lewis LLP. However, Hogan Lovells (Middle East) LLP has announced the closure of its Abu Dhabi office, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton has left the UAE. UAE firms such as Al Tamimi & Company, Hadef & Partners and Bin Shabib & Associates (BSA) LLP have raised aspirations to meet the international challenge. The merger which formed Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla is a significant and interesting merger.
The legal processes applicable in the UAE are complex. A federal legal system applies to the smaller emirates but each of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah has a civil code local court system with its own Cassation Court; all court proceedings are in Arabic and only UAE nationals have rights of audience. The DIFC Judicial Authority (DIFC Courts) provides an independent common law judicial system within the financial district. Other forums include the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC) and the Dubai World Tribunal (DWT).
Recovery from the 2008 financial crisis is well underway: stalled construction projects are being restarted and major infrastructure initiatives including hospitals, roads, port facilities, railways and airport extensions are proceeding. M&A deals in the MENA region have picked up in certain sectors such as telecoms, and the hotel, hospitality and retail sectors are bullish. Litigation and arbitration in the construction sector arising from the financial crisis continues to keep firms busy.