A resolution approved this week requires Dubai lawyers to be licensed by the Government for the first time.
Local practitioners hope the licensing is a step towards developing a code of conduct and ethics for the emirate's lawyers. Conflicts of interest, shoddy advice and inappropriate fees are common problems in Dubai, lawyers say.
Licensing is "very good for the market", said Michael Lunjevich, a partner in Hadef & Partners. "There needs to be some real credibility for the legal market and this will help."
Current law requires only firms to register with the Government, not individual lawyers. There are no set standards for training or qualifications that allow a lawyer to provide legal services.
Under the new law, no individuals can provide legal services - including pleading cases, providing legal opinion and advice and drafting contracts - unless they are licensed by the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department.
"There are a lot of people in the UAE providing legal services, but they are not lawyers," said Ludmila Yamalova, a partner in HPL Yamalova & Plewka. "These people are not qualified to give legal advice."
Clients unhappy about legal practices currently have little recourse other than to file a complaint with the Ruler's Court. Disgruntled clients could file a complaint with a foreign lawyer's home bar association, but there has been no requirement for a lawyer practising in Dubai to be a member of an association.
The resolution released this week does not address standards for registered lawyers, but directs the director general of the Dubai Legal Affairs Department to issue "bylaws and instructions necessary for the implementation of this resolution".
"What I will be interested to see is if there are any conditions for obtaining a licence," said Husam Hourani, a managing partner for Al Tamimi & Company's Dubai office.
Lawyers with international firms may be required to maintain membership in their home bar associations or at least have had some level of education.
"Hopefully it will clarify the terms of who will be acceptable," Mr Hourani said.
Legal representatives also hope the Government will set up specific codes of conduct, detailing inappropriate behaviour. Clients often complain that Dubai lawyers do not provide updated information on their cases or they neglect to disclose relationships with parties related to a case, Ms Yamalova said.
"In order to hold people to standards they need to be subjected to standards," she said.
In the UK and US, barristers and solicitors are licensed to associations that regulate their ethical behaviour and conduct.
"Given the size of the legal market [in Dubai] there needs to be some regulation within it," Mr Lunjevich said.
The resolution, which goes into effect on August 26, will add expense for legal practices. Firms must pay Dh3,000 (US$816) for each advocate or "legal consultant" on staff, plus Dh2,000 to register each lawyer.
Their licences must be renewed each year.
Anyone found providing legal services without a licence is subject to a Dh50,000 fine. Anyone failing to renew their licence will face fines of Dh1,000 a day, with a maximum of Dh15,000 in the first month.
A Dh5,000 fine will be imposed on any advocate not displaying the licence in a "prominent" place in the firm's office.