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Legal market overview

While uncertainty over the low oil price is generally tempering activity in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is being powered by its position as a business hub for the region. Dubai’s successful bid for Expo 2020 led to the UAE government budgeting $8bn worth of new projects, and further growth is being driven by new real estate and tourism investment. Moreover, the government has set ambitious renewable energy targets for 2020, which could see more than $50bn worth of investment made in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) solar power sector. Construction and property remain the main drivers of the UAE economy, with the hotel and leisure sector particularly fruitful.

There has been a robust period of inbound, outbound and regional M&A activity, with numerous transactions being driven by private equity investment in sectors such as hospitals and education. More companies have expanded their business operations through leveraged finance in the region, which is a growing trend. One significant example of this was Etisalat raising $4.3bn through the region’s largest corporate bond sale to fund the bulk of its $5.7bn purchase of a majority stake in Morocco’s Maroc Telecom from Vivendi.

Islamic finance also continues to flourish, with the global sukuk market continuing to grow and a number of new participants including sovereigns such as the Government of the Hong Kong SAR, as well as the governments of the UK, Luxembourg and South Africa.

For law firms operating in the region, the UAE market remains intensely competitive, with significant pressure on fees; as a result, some firms have retrenched during the year. 2014/15 saw the exit from Abu Dhabi of a number of leading law firms, including Latham & Watkins LLP, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, and Baker Botts L.L.P. and, most recently, Simmons & Simmons Midle East LLP, all on the pretext of shifting their focus to Dubai. In reality, work emanating from the government institutions based in Abu Dhabi remains tightly controlled.

The Dubai International Financial Centre – the UAE federal financial free zone in Dubai – continues to attract business, with most law firms believing an office base there is a prerequisite of successful practice. Furthermore, the DIFC has its own courts and the jurisdiction is increasing its caseload, albeit the main forum for litigation in the UAE remains the local court system.

Law House Advocates and Legal Consultants

Established in 2007, Law House is a full-service law firm advising and supporting local, regional and international corporations, financial institutions and individual clients in the UAE. Within the Middle East, Law House is strategically positioned in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and is connected to a network of correspondent offices in the GCC, Europe, Asia and USA. Other than a wide experience in local customs, laws, regulations and practices, the firm’s highly qualified teams of lawyers are also experienced in several international jurisdictions, equipped with global knowledge and skill-sets to best serve clients.

Firms in the spotlight

Al Safar and Partners Advocates and Legal Consultants

Al Safar & Partners advocates & legal consultants was established in 1981 by advocate Mahdi Al Safar and has completed 33 years among the best of UAE’s law firms. The firm provides general legal advice to its clients. In the year 2008 senior advocate Ms Kavitha Panicker, managing partner of the firm, undertook the mission of growing the firm to its current status and the setting up of operational processes for quality management...

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