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United Arab Emirates > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings


Doing Business in the United Arab Emirates

Contributed by Mahmood Hussain Advocates & Legal Consultancy

The UAE and the middle-east has always been a fascinating place for the outside world; some still imagine it as a land of flying carpets and magic lamps, while others know it as a modern sophisticated country exemplified by the engineering marvel the Burj Khalifa. Doing business in the UAE is a topic that has had a myriad articles written on it. Here we provide an overview of the various aspects that make living and doing business in the UAE so attractive.

We start with the very basic requirements of a conducive environment for doing business and the reasons why UAE is quickly emerging as the most attractive investment destination for the global investors.


Legal market overview

Political events in the Middle East created interesting times for the UAE, its undisputed hub, with projects work across the region featuring heavily in the market. Political intrigue concerning Saudi Arabia has slowed down investment into the UAE’s ally and larger neighbour; Saudi work was and still is a key source of legal work in the UAE for a number of reasons – various projects that are ongoing in Saudi Arabia, several connected to “Vision 2030”, are being successfully serviced out of Dubai. The same cannot be said of Qatar, which continues to be subjected to a boycott by many other states in the region, the UAE included; much Qatar-related work that was previously serviced out of Dubai is now handled outside the Middle East. Likewise, the Trump administration’s re-imposition of sanctions on Iran has quashed this nascent stream of work.

The insolvency of private equity house Abraaj, following allegations of (at best) a failure to draw a clear segregation of the manager’s and the funds’ capital, is expected to further impact the sector in the region. Optimists would point out that fresh managers may be created by dealmakers who cut their teeth at Abraaj, and that there are not known to be real defects with the portfolio companies themselves (many of which were financially successful and socially effective), as distinct from the governance of the private equity house. Realistically, most firms with a strong disputes capability will handle some work touching on this, however due to the fund structuring the real heavy lifting on this dispute will be done in the Cayman Islands. Also, there have been a few difficult questions raised regarding the local economy, with more sceptical observers noting falling real estate rents in what has been identified as a property-driven economy, as well as S&P downgrading the credit ratings of DEWA and DIFC Investments (two of many state-backed entities) to BBB and BBB- respectively.

Within the UAE itself, the clichéd comparison of the Dubai-Abu Dhabi relationship with the dynamic between New York and Washington remains a reasonable observation – Dubai is a larger commercial hub, with Abu Dhabi an important centre for government work, including the energy sectors and work for sovereign wealth funds. These are two of the nation’s seven Emirates – the other five, collectively known as the Northern Emirates, are smaller and certainly have some degree of economic activity.

A key feature of the landscape in the UAE is a system of free zones, in particular the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM). As federal free zones, these two have the latitude to operate their own, common law, systems, other than criminal law and the UAE constitution. Both operate an English-based common law system, with English legal talent in evidence both on the bench and before the courts. The DIFC is the more tested system, with the ADGM newer on the market, however ADGM structures are increasingly popular, both in terms of ease of creating ADGM SPVs and promising noises coming out of the ADGM courts. Emirate free zones also exist but do not have their own legal systems; there are too many of these to list but they frequently appear in corporate structures in the region.

Major English and, to a lesser extent, US firms have a strong presence in the UAE. Firms such as Al Tamimi & Company (a firm with operations across the Arab world from Cairo to Baghdad but with its origins in the UAE) and Hadef & Partners LLC are also sophisticated operations that have no difficulty recruiting talented expatriate lawyers to sit alongside locally-qualified experts in UAE law, but have a focus on advising on “onshore” UAE law. Notable exits from the market include Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP, which closed down its presence after only a few years, and offshore firm Conyers Dill & Pearman.

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Legal Developments in United Arab Emirates

Legal Developments and updates from the leading lawyers in each jurisdiction. To contribute, send an email request to
  • Regulatory Authorities of UAE Economic Substance Regulations announced

    Further to our previous inBrief dated 7 July 2019, which disucssed UAE Cabinet Resolution 31 of 2019 Concerning Economic Substance Regulations (the UAE Economic Substance Regulations or the Regulations), and inBrief dated 10 October 2019, which discussed the Guidance on UAE Economic Substance Regulations issued by the UAE Ministry of Finance, Cabinet Decision No. 58 of 2019 has now designated the regulatory authorities (the Regulatory Authorities) to regulate compliance with the UAE Economic Substance Regulations. 
  • Emirates Development Bank appointed to maintain Register of Finance Leases

    Pursuant to UAE Federal Cabinet Resolution No. 56 of 2019, Emirates Development Bank has been appointed to maintain the register of finance lease contracts created pursuant to UAE Federal Law No. 8 of 2018 on Finance Lease (the Finance Lease Law or the Law). 
  • UAE Ministry of Finance Issues Guidance on Economic Substance Regulations

    A previous inBrief dated 7 July 2019 discussed UAE Cabinet Resolution 31 of 2019 Concerning Economic Substance Regulations (the UAE Economic Substance Regulations or the Regulations).
  • Gulf Tanker Attacks: Implications on Costs

    Tanker attacks have a long history indicating that it could be a powerful weapon in international conflict, which can significantly destabilize an economy. During the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s, oil terminals and tankers were under severe attacks, which directly affected the economies of both nations, in addition to the safety of maritime traffic.
  • Funding Your Start-Up In The UAE

    Funding options for start-ups in the UAE are on the rise. Traditionally, most start-ups in the UAE have tended to be bootstrapped or financed by conventional lenders such as banks and financial institutions. However, over the last few years, business incubators and accelerators have flourished in the UAE, creating a conducive and cost-effective environment for entrepreneurship in the UAE. This has led to a gradual upsurge in activities in the angel investment, crowdfunding, private equity, and venture capital space. Notably, the technology space has seen a boost as the UAE government has announced various initiatives for entrepreneurs and has been actively promoting the fintech space.
  • UPDATE: Medical Liability Law in the UAE

    Doctors in the UAE face considerable legal risk when treating patients. Thus, it’s important for casualties as well as medical practitioners to know their rights and get their cases evaluated by legal experts.
  • The New DIFC Employment Law- What Has Changed?

    DIFC Employment Law no. 2 of 2019 (“New Law ”) has recently been enacted which repeals and replaces the DIFC Law no. 4/2005 as amended by DIFC Law no. 3 of 2012 (“Previous Law ”). There has been an ongoing debate about the implemented changes introduced by the New Law. Some changes have been enacted to protect the employers, such as the limitation of liability period of 6 months and the provisions which allow employees to waive their rights under the New Law subject to agreements put in writing. Other changes have been enacted to protect the employees, such as provisions for non-discrimination and non-victimization, the penalties imposed by the DIFC for employer’s non-compliance, and forbidding the employer to retain the employee’s original passport (although the latter was always the legal position in the UAE).
  • UPDATE: New DIFC Wills and Probate Rules

    The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry (WPR) has been established as an official mechanism for non-Muslims to register their wills and have it enforced through the DIFC Courts. Previously there was a lot of uncertainty with regards to the registration of wills of non-Muslims since Shari’a principles govern inheritance throughout the UAE. If an expatriate living in the UAE dies without having a will in place, Shari’a principles will most likely apply, and family members may be forced into an heirship regime without fully understanding the consequences. The best way to ensure certainty over your assets upon death is to register a will with the DIFC WPR. Although the Registry has its own complex rules and laws that would be applicable, it provides a relative freedom of disposition of assets upon death. The DIFC WPR has gone through a number of changes since its establishment in 2015 and has consistently strived to better protect testators and their assets. The DIFC WPR’s jurisdiction has now officially expanded to include assets outside of Dubai.
  • Right of Set off under the UAE Civil Transaction Law No. 5 of 1985 and the view from the DIFC

    In a 2018 judgment the DIFC, discussed and decided upon the concept of set-off under the UAE Civil Transaction Law No. 5 of 1985 (the “Civil Code”).

    Since a very long time, FIDIC (The International Federation of Consulting Engineers) is commonly used a standard for international construction and engineering contracts and is very frequently used in UAE. It mainly governs the construction works within the country and in GCC. 

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