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Legal Market Overview

Most of the Gulf nations operate under a civil law system, however a number of free zones, using English-based common law systems in some of these jurisdictions have gained traction and become a source of work for the English commercial Bar, having succeeded in attracting a range of international leaders in law and finance. In the UAE, the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) uses a common law judicial system for commercial matters and all proceedings are in English; the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) operates on a similar basis. While the DIFC is more established, the ADGM has succeeded in gaining traction over the past few years; at least historically it was seen that the ADGM companies law was friendly to special purpose vehicles. Outside of the UAE, the Qatar Financial Centre, whose court is known as the Qatar International Court operates on a similar basis. All three have judiciaries featuring a number of former leading judges from common law jurisdictions including England, Singapore, Australia and Malaysia, although the DIFC has in recent years added more home-grown judges as well.

A significant portion of the UAE’s legal market, and that of other GCC countries as well, service disputes arising from construction projects. The average value of construction disputes in the Middle East increased from $62m in 2019 to $86m in 2020. Key sectors with the most disputes were education, healthcare, retail, commercial and real estate developments. Expo 2020 in Dubai has been a key driving force in construction demand, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Other economic policies including full foreign ownership of companies and loosened restrictions on Dubai’s remote working visa will continue to drive growth in the construction market, as will infrastructure projects across the region such as those connected to Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and Saudi Vision 2030. As these are typically resolved in international arbitration, English counsel are a popular choice in the region for international and home-grown firms alike.