This article discusses how to start a legal law firm in Dubai.
Understand the Legal Market in Dubai
Countless international law firms have established their legal practices in Dubai to benefit from a growing demand for legal services in the country. The city has acted as a magnet for investors from across the world, which has led to a growth in law firms who look after their interests. At times, it can seem that the legal market is saturated by big international firms, however, smaller firms have flourished in recent years by focusing on profitable legal functions.
Law Firm License
Law firms in Dubai must be licensed by the Legal Affairs Department and registered with the Dubai Department of Economic Development. Administrative Resolution No. (234) of 2015 Concerning the Registration of Legal Consultants in the Emirate of Dubai mandates foreign lawyers to register with the Legal Affairs Department in Dubai.
Foreign law firms ordinarily either take the form of a sole proprietorship or a branch office. Many foreign law firms operate through a free zone branch, typically the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). An applicant is required to apply to the DIFC’s regulatory body, the DFSA, which will consider the merits and suitability of the applicant.
The Process at DIFC
- The DFSA will require a business plan with projected financials.
- Applicants will also be expected to provide the following information:
- Details of their staff, significant shareholders (10% and above), and controllers, as well as confirmation as to their suitability to conduct the proposed entity’s business;
- the compliance systems, internal audit function; and
- the anti-money laundering procedures and controls.
- Once the DFSA is satisfied with the application; it will issue an approval to the applicant, which will contain several conditions to be satisfied before granting of the final license, including:
- the registration of the entity with the DIFC Registrar of Companies;
- opening a local bank account and providing the DFSA with proof of share capital deposit; and
- evidence of the lease of an office from which it will conduct its activities.
Individuals registering for the rights of the audience in the DIFC must also provide oral advocacy experience obtained in a tribunal, court, or arbitration proceedings.
Local Courts for Law Firms
Practicing law in local (non-DIFC) courts is reserved by Federal Law No. 23 to UAE nationals and Gulf Cooperation Council nationals. However, non-UAE advocates can register if they:
- Have a minimum of 15 years’ relevant advocacy experience.
- Are qualified as an advocate in a foreign jurisdiction (hold professional membership for that jurisdiction).
- Are of full legal capacity and have not been convicted of an offense affecting their trustworthiness.
In practice, very few expat-owned law firms directly participate in local courts; they instead work with local law firms that can represent their clients.
Avoid the Pitfalls of Incorporating Law Firm On Your Own!
We understand that as a legal professional, you may know the basics of how to incorporate a company in most jurisdictions. However, we would recommend that you speak to one of our consultants to help you avoid common mistakes that can lead to costly delays in starting your law firm in Dubai. We work with authorities across Dubai and UAE and can give you valuable tips based on your field of legal expertise.