Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

UAE legal firms urged to recruit more Emirati lawyers

Experts claim having Emirati figureheads and employing foreign nationals to do the bulk of casework is damaging the profession

Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. Andrew Henderson / The National
Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. Andrew Henderson / The National

Emirati law firms should hire fewer foreign nationals and instead do the casework themselves, the Federal National Council has heard.

Experts said far too many UAE firms used Emiratis as mere figureheads for their company’s practice, relying instead on workers brought in from abroad.

The growing trend was blamed on Emirati lawyers being unwilling to jeopardise stable government jobs for riskier private practice work.

Legislation which bans Emirati lawyers from holding other business interests was also highlighted as being a contributing factor.

“We’ve discovered many Emirati’s work as a ‘shadow’ lawyers - where they open law firms under their names and then bring in foreign workers to do the job,” said Jasim Al Naqbi, an FNC member.

“He’s only there as an image or figurehead. We want to stop this and work towards a point where each lawyer practices the job himself.”

The FNC session in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday heard from a number of leading Emirati lawyers working in the UAE.

Experts said the practice of hiring large numbers of foreign nationals was widespread, and was having significant repercussions for the profession.

One impact, they argued, was a resulting increase in competition for jobs, discouraging young Emiratis from studying law.

They also claimed that the high salaries Emirati lawyers earned by setting up practices but then leaving the casework for others, way outstripped what they might make by doing the job themselves.

In many instances, said Hamid Al Menhali, an Abu Dhabi-based lawyer, Emirati owners of law firms could earn up to Dh40,000 a month just by effectively lending their name to the company.

“You can find an Emirati opening seven law offices under his name across the Emirates and receiving money [commission] from each without having to do any work,” said Mr Al Menhali.

“This is offensive to the profession and brings unfair competition to the market.

“We have spoken to many of them to ask them to stop but they say it is none of our business.”

The FNC also heard how many young lawyers were against the idea of setting up a practice on their own due to the potential financial risks involved.

Experts cited regular non-payment or late payment of fees as being a particular issue in the legal profession – putting off young graduates.

Instead, many of those just starting their careers preferred to accept government roles, where a stable income was guaranteed.

Mohammed Saeed, who works as a legal advisor for Abu Dhabi Police, described how he finished his law degree in 2007.

But after practicing for just one year – and despite really loving the job – he opted to move to the public sector to guarantee a regular income.

“New graduates often face many financial commitments, especially if they have a wife and children,” he said.

“And to open his own law office he needs to have enough capital.”

Updated: February 21, 2019 11:22 AM