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UAE (Abu Dhabi) International Trade in Legal Services

United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi) International Trade in Legal Services


Is there legislation governing the legal sector

Federal Law no. 23 on the Regulation of the Legal Profession (16 December 1991)

Under what title do lawyers practise?

Lawyers in the UAE practise under a single title: 'advocate'

How does an individual lawyer obtain a "licence" to practise law? How often must this be renewed?

According to article 4 of the Federal Law on the Regulation of the Legal Profession, no one is entitled to practise the legal profession in the State unless they are registered on the role of Practising Advocates maintained by the Ministry of Justice. In order to be registered, a lawyer must fulfil the following conditions:  1. Be a national of the UAE; 2. Be at least twenty one years old; 3. Hold full civil capacity, with good character and reputation, and not have been subject to any criminal or disciplinary sentence arising from a breach of honour or trust; 4. Hold a license in Law or Islamic Law from an accredited university or higher institute in the State or an equivalent qualification; 5. Have undertaken the required training period.  Registration is required annually. 

Does this entitle the holder to practise throughout the country? If the law license only permits one to practice on a sub-national level, please explain the jurisdictional limits

UAE advocates are entitled to practise throughout the country. Abu Dhabi requires an advocate from another emirate to use a resident advocate in Abu Dhabi as their correspondent counsel.

Are there certain activities that are "reserved" to those who are licensed to practise law in the jurisdiction?

Only admitted advocates may plead before the Federal Supreme Court and conduct litigation. The UAE Courts and government departments only recognise the power of attorney of those who are entered into the role of practising advocates. 

Do you need to hold local nationality to be eligible to practise law?

Practising law in the courts is reserved by Federal Law no.23 to UAE nationals.

What legal forms can lawyers work in? (e.g. self employment, partnership, limited liability partnership, multi-disciplinary partnership, incorporation)

Lawyers in Abu Dhabi may practise as sole practitioners. Unlike Dubai they may not use the civil company structure which is predominantly used by the professions.

What other ethical or regulatory requirements must a licensed lawyer comply with? 

The Federal Law contains some basic ethical provisions that a lawyer must comply with, such as client relations, a prohibition on conditional and contingency fees, conflicts and confidentiality.

Do law firms need to receive a "license" (or permission/approval) to practice law?

Lawyers in Abu Dhabi must apply for a licence to establish an office through the Executive Affairs Authority.

Which authority issues licences? Are there different authorities for individuals and firms? 

Advocates who wish to obtain a licence to practise in the courts or to establish a law office must apply to the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi which will check on the lawyer's registration with the Ministry of Justice. 



Are there any explicit rules or restrictions other than visas on fly in fly out practice of law? Ie. Do you need to obtain a licence for temporary practice?

A physical office is required for the practice of law in Abu Dhabi.

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a visa to visit clients or to market but not to practice?

Business visas to the UAE are available for 30 day visits but are not required for some nationalities (e.g. USA, UK, Australian)

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a licence to establish and practise as a foreign legal consultant and what is the scope of this limited licence?

A foreign lawyer may establish as sole proprietor but Abu Dhabi generally only encourages larger international firms to apply for licences. There is no separate individual licensing requirement for foreign nationals who are working in law firms aside from the firm licensing process, although as part of the firm licensing process the individual who heads the office must be approved.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled once a foreign lawyer has been granted a limited licence (e.g. residency requirement)

A foreign legal consultant must be resident in Abu Dhabi.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled for a foreign lawyer to qualify for a limited licence? (e.g. prior practice)

There are detailed licence conditions which include prior practice.

Are foreign lawyers permitted to undertake arbitration and mediation?

There are no restrictions on the participation of foreign lawyers in arbitration and mediation proceedings.

Are foreign lawyers allowed to appear in court under any circumstances?


Lawyers from other Arab countries may take part in pleading particular cases before the UAE courts if they are employed in the office of an Emirati lawyer with an office in Abu Dhabi and provided reciprocal conditions apply in the lawyer's home jurisdiction.

Can foreign lawyers requalify as local lawyers?


As an exception to the nationality requirement, a non-UAE national may qualify to practise the legal profession in the UAE if, in addition to  fulfilling the age, civil capacity and character requirements, he fulfils the following conditions :
a - He must have worked in the legal profession or the judicial field for a period of fifteen years at least .
b - He must be a legal resident of the State .
c - He must practice the profession through a Bureau of a national lawyer registered in the Roll of Practicing Lawyers.


Can a foreign law firm obtain a licence to open an office?

Foreign law firms may open offices in Abu Dhabi and may only carry out legal activity in the Emirate if they have a physical presence there.

Even if a foreign law firm does not require a legal licence must they register in some form in order to set up an office? (e.g. with a ministry of company affairs etc)

All foreign law firms must be licensed  to establish offices in Abu Dhabi and in addition to the legal licence from the Executive Affairs Authority, the firm must register the branch with the Department of Planning and Economy. They must appoint a local services agent to assist them with the licensing and permit procedures.

Are there different types of foreign law firm 'licence'  (e.g. Joint Law Venture, stand alone foreign licence etc)

Foreign law firms may either take the form of a sole proprietorship or a branch office of the law firm's home jurisdiction.

Is there a quota on the number of licences available?

There is no formal quota but licences are allocated by the Executive Authority on the basis of an assessment of need and value added contributed by the foreign law firm.

Are there geographical restrictions on foreign firm licences or on the number of branches a foreign firm can have?

Each Emirate has its own licensing procedures. Most foreign law firms are located in Dubai or Abu Dhabi and a few are present in Sharjah.

Are there "scope of practice" rules that apply directly to foreign law firms (as opposed to lawyers themselves)? (e.g. home, host, international law), if so, what are they? TheForeign law firms are not permitted to conduct litigation or send their representatives to appear in court.
Are there restrictions on the corporate form a foreign law firm can take? Foreign law firms must take the form of branch offices of a parent law firm that has practised law outside the UAE for at least 10 years.
Are there rules about the name a foreign law firm can take? A foreign law firm must comply with the general UAE legal requirements on choosing a trade name.
What entity grants a 'license' to a foreign law firm? If that entity is on the Internet, please provide the URL Legal and Risk Management Affairs Unit of the Executive Affairs Authority  - http://eaa.abudhabi.ae


Are there restrictions on the ownership share of foreign lawyers in a law firm?

Foreign firms may own 100% of law firms established as branches of a parent law firm in their home jurisdiction. 

May a domestic lawyer be employed by a foreign lawyer or law firm?

Registered lawyers can only be employed or work from the offices of lawyers who are registered as advocates on the roll maintained by the Ministry of Justice.

Can a domestic lawyer enter into partnership with a foreign lawyer?

UAE lawyers may be partners in law firms with foreign lawyers however the commercial forms of general and limited liability partnership are restricted to UAE nationals only. 

Can a domestic lawyer or domestic law firm employ a foreign lawyer?

UAE lawyers are allowed to employ foreign lawyers. If these lawyers are Arab nationals they may can also plead in court in certain circumstances.



Other useful sources or comments or links

For a full description of the licensing process: www.business.abudhabi.ae, For UAE legislation: www.gulf-law.com