Andrew Tarbuck has one of those faces that make it difficult to pin down an age. He isn't much older than his early thirties, but he could pass for a younger graduate student at Newcastle University in Britain, or the Chester College of Law, his alma maters. One thing is for sure: Mr Tarbuck, whose academic career was paired with vigorous rugby competitions, is very fit, which may explain the boundless energy he demonstrates in discussing the UAE over lunch. Another thing - he is very successful. He was recently made a partner at the international legal powerhouse of Latham & Watkins LLP, which was founded in 1934 and has more than 2,100 attorneys in 28 offices around the world, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai. During 2007, Latham lawyers handled more than US$182.6 billion in debt offerings and US$72.7bn in public equity offerings worldwide, including US$32bn of initial public offerings. You simply don't get to become a partner at such a legal institution, at such a young age, unless you are very good at what you do.
What Mr Tarbuck does in Dubai ranges from corporate finance to personal finance to, well, most any topic that falls under the rubric of legal practice. In a rapidly developing country such as the UAE, a lawyer needs to be very versatile indeed. "The law, in any jurisdiction, is the cornerstone by which all of our lives are governed and applies to all manner of human behaviour, including personal finance," Mr. Tarbuck said. "I was seduced by the cut and thrust of law as it applied to corporate finance, and so it has led me into some incredibly interesting areas of global business, including equity capital markets, mergers and acquisitions and, most pertinently, corporate restructurings."
So how much of his practice consists of matters involving personal finance? What is most asked of him concerning law and the management of personal finance? "It is common practice for lawyers to provide informal advice to friends and family on more personal matters, including personal finance," Mr Tarbuck said. "I could not tell you how many London cab drivers have asked me for advice relating to their mortgage or residential lease.
"Being a corporate lawyer, you are quite often asked for comment on the state of the markets from a personal investment perspective. Lawyers have to be careful not to give direct investment advice, and also be wary of the fact that they are in possession of highly confidential price-sensitive information." And what's it like to practice law in the UAE, a country where nearly everyone is obsessed with personal finance - especially in these times of economic upheaval?
"Practicing law in the UAE throws up many challenges, which at times can be frustrating but also very rewarding," he said. "A significant majority of corporate documents are governed by US or UK law, and so it is commonplace for English law to be practised in the UAE, which has a traditional affinity with English culture and values. However, UAE law is based upon civil law principles rather than English law, which follows a common-law approach."
Legal jurisdiction and applicability of the law is therefore of special consequence when it comes to issues relating to personal finance. This can make for a complicated situation in adjudicating disputes. Our lawyer explains: "Subject always to the constitution of the UAE, each emirate is subject to the Federal Law of the UAE but retains the right to administer its own internal affairs and enjoys certain other exclusive rights, Mr Tarbuck explained. "The UAE legal system is founded upon Civil Law principles and Sharia Law, the latter constituting the guiding principle and source of law.
"English law is based upon the Common Law legal system, but the UAE legal system is a member of the Civil Law family of legal systems whereby legislation tends to be formulated into a number of major codes providing for general principles of law with a significant amount of subsidiary legislation which is promulgated by a number of means such as decisions, resolutions and instructions." Does that mean that as an English-qualified lawyer in the UAE it can be difficult to interpret such prescriptive laws and to understand the principles of Sharia law?
"Continual learning and adding to one's skill set can be very satisfying," Mr Tarbuck said. "Frequent questions that arise concern the enforcement by the UAE courts of court judgments obtained in foreign courts and the ability to initiate proceedings against government organisations. The adherence to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 2006 by the UAE has given the region a great deal of credibility and has provided increased comfort to those foreign entities looking to invest in the UAE.
Still, there is also an altruistic element to the law whereby the lawyer acts as a conduit between the law itself and the end user, whether in businesses or among individuals, Mr Tarbuck said. "It is our job to know the law and then interpret it and advise accordingly so that our clients can make informed decisions and minimise their risk accordingly," he said. There are, of course, always surprises in the game, even for a lawyer like Mr Tarbuck.
"There is always the possibility that your client will suddenly fold on a plethora of points in a negotiation when you had steadfastly agreed behind closed doors to protect the 'crown jewels' at any cost.," he said. "This can sometimes be frustrating for the lawyer, but it must always be remembered that the client does not have to take your advice no matter how good it is." But usually, Mr Tarbuck gets it just right. Not many days ago, he received a particularly gratifying validation of his skills and status.
"I was honoured to be invited to participate in an economic development forum hosted by the Syrian Government and civil service to provide my experience as an international legal practitioner from private practice." As his rugby coach in Britain would have said, Well done, sir! Pranay Gupte, a journalist and author, is co-editor of the forthcoming Global Emirates: An Anthology of Tolerance and Understanding, distributed by Motivate Publishing.