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Ashraf El Motei, Managing Partner

What do you see as the main points that differentiate Motei & Associates (M&A) from your competitors?

UAE is a unique example of how multiple legal systems - French/Egyptian law, Sharia (Islamic) law and English law (practiced in the Dubai Financial Centre Courts (DIFC) - can, in fact, be practiced within the same geographical boundaries of a country. 

Indeed, selecting a law firm in Dubai may not be that hard, thanks to the number of law firms operating in Dubai. ¬†Today, in view of the surge on the supply side and the diversity of law firms, selecting THE ‘right’ law firm/lawyer could be intimidating and probably very challenging.

While international law firms bring with them a wealth of international standard expertise based, mainly, on English law, they usually lack the on-ground experience and are challenged by working in a legal system based on the French/Egyptian law with Arabic as the official language. Local ‘leading’ law firms have the on-ground experience with mostly French/Egyptian law lawyers and able to work in English and Arabic with equal proficiency. Both are aiming at providing the full spectrum of legal services to ‘mainly’ top-tier clients, certainly, at expectedly high legal fees to cover their high operation costs.

After spending five years observing the legal industry in the UAE (while practicing as in-house counsel of a multinational company when I first moved to Dubai in 1997), I recognized the dire demand for ‘blended’ law firms. A small law firm that combines on-ground, French/Egyptian law system experience with international standard quality services. That in mind, I decided to establish M&A in 2002.

M&A combines an effective blend of western educated/trained lawyers competent to provide legal services in the diverse legal systems of the UAE, in both English and Arabic at equal proficiency. Over the years, we have developed deep understanding and on ground knowledge and experience of local laws and business culture, enabling us to cut through legal complexities and deliver effective advocacy. My primary focus is delivering ‘true’ value-for-money, simple, practical and personalized legal help for small and midsize companies and individuals at considerably lower legal fees.

What makes M&A different? We listen with empathy, are responsive, and provide ‘personalized’ services based on a transparent, clear ‘fixed’ fee structure from the beginning!

I understand that every legal issue has significant emotional components for the client, and perhaps more important than the legal issue involved. A client might be angry about something that happened or feels deceived or hurt by what someone else did. Same feeling could also be experienced by a company facing a legal problem which might be a concern about its ability to survive. 

An effective way of acknowledging the totality of the client’s experience is letting him/her to express feelings and emotions and ‘genuinely’ listening to their experience. This is how we, at M&A, establish rapport and create a healthy relationship with our clients, business partners and employees, which has

I also understand that while expertise, ability and availability count very much, affordability and clear fee structure remain to be the main criterion for small and midsize clients. Therefore, I guarantee our services are offered on a clear fixed fee basis from the start.

Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?

The UAE has taken another important step towards the relaxation of the rules restricting foreign ownership of UAE companies with the implementation of the new Foreign Direct Investment Law last September 2018.  The new law aims at promoting and developing the country's investment environment and attracting foreign direct investment in line with national development policies. It is predicted that the new law which allows majority ownership in companies outside free zones shall boost foreign investment by up to 20 per cent during the next 2 years.
Lately, I have noticed a significant demand in business setups, company’s restructurings and regulatory compliance work, which, I believe, it will continue in view of the UAE’s continuous efforts to give international businesses and investors significant comfort when deciding to invest or conduct business in Dubai/UAE.

Also, a tremendous demand for DIFC wills, guardianship, financial assets, property and free zone companies has been recorded. I also foresee a continuance increase of work in our dispute resolution practice (through either local court or arbitration), in commercial and real estate, which I believe is due to the current slower global growth and cash flow challenges.

What's the main change you've made in the firm that will benefit clients?

Certainly, providing value-for-money services at international standard is of my primary objective. That said, I have restructured our fee arrangements to a fixed/flat fee structure firm. Since the adoption of such structure we have recorded significant increase in referrals. We have also adopted a completely customized software and application to manage the workflow of the firm seamlessly.

I also understand that in order to continue improving our services we need to know what our clients think about our services and how do they perceive M&A. We don’t only search for opinions published on social media and reviews provided on google, but we also deliberately ask for feedback. That said, we encourage our clients to give us their feedback, during the performance of the services through a dedicated e-mail address, which is only received by me. Whether positive or negative, it is an important source for me to have a realistic/practical view of our performance which is an essential element to improving client’s experience at M&A.

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

I am fully aware that digital transformation is revolutionizing every industry and creating growth for those who embrace the use of digital technologies, and at the same time turns into a roadblock for who are hesitant to adopt it. I am a strong believer that innovation technologies go beyond what we attribute at first glance, efficiency or a cost optimizing element. I see innovative technologies rather as   an opportunity to transform fundamentally our industry, identify what slows us down and consumes valuable time, hence stretching case solution time and certainly impacting cost. 

For example, sourcing information on laws and court decisions or perhaps collecting facts/data during a trial pre-discovery phase is time-consuming for a lawyer (fee earner) and certainly will have a negative impact on performance and efficiency. Therefore, the adoption of Big Data and AI is addressing such challenge and reversing it into an opportunity allowing us lawyers, who truly enjoy the art of law, to have a more proactive knowledge sharing tool and actually focus on practicing the Law.
My aim is to lead M&A over the next five years through such digital transformation process to be able to realign our services with client’s needs and demands. ¬†

Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?

We have won a landmark ruling on a succession of 35 cases against a UAE based developer, who failed to construct a residential property project despite receiving advanced deposits estimated to be in the region of £50 million. For further info on the case, please visit:
Through our corporate department we assisted hundreds of clients in setting up in Dubai. Contrary to regular setup companies, our added value comes post incorporation. Through our Regulatory Compliance Team.

Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms? - where do you see the firm in three years time?

The market for legal services is moving and growing and certainly demand for alternative or non-traditional legal services is increasing. The basic supply-demand relationship shifted, and the supply of lawyers exceeded the new world of client demand. Today’s client is looking more for a law firm that have a better understanding of the business culture of where the transaction takes place to ensure a successful deal or a favorable dispute resolution, in the unlikely event.

Taking into account that technology development continues at an aggressive pace, law firms need to be constantly seeking to disrupt their traditional business and operating models, looking for opportunities to implement newer technologies that best fit their needs. That said, in three years, I see M&A building a competitive advantage through developing innovative approaches to meeting our clients’ needs.

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