The following provides information on how to pratise in Abu Dhabi.

The Legal System:

Until 2007 Abu Dhabi operated within the UAE Federal Court which applies to all emirates except Dubai and Ra’s al Khaymah, which are not fully integrated into the federal system; all emirates have secular courts to adjudicate criminal, civil, and commercial matters and Islamic courts to review family and religious disputes.

In June 2007 a new law came into force placing Abu Dhabi outside the federal jurisdiction to which had previously been applied to it and into an independent local jurisdiction.

The legal structure currently consists of lower courts, courts of appeal and a supreme court as well as an independent local public prosecution service.

Regulation of legal profession:

A simplified licensing procedure has been central to the 2006 legislation. The new system will see international law firms able to apply for a license directly from the Executive Council. Firms established outside of the UAE will be able to set-up branches in Abu Dhabi provided they satisfy certain conditions.

There are 4 main requirements for registering a branch of a foreign law firm in Abu Dhabi:

1. To have practiced law outside of the UAE for at least 15 years;

2. To have, in aggregate, at least 50 partners;

3. To obtain the consent of the Executive Council of the Government of Abu Dhabi (the “Executive Council”); and

4. To register the branch with the Abu Dhabi Department of Planning and Economy.

The application to the Executive Council must be accompanied by the following documents:

1. A “statement of capabilities” or a “CV” of the firm, containing the type of activities carried out by the main branch, the areas of specialisation and past experience (perhaps indicating some of the clients and projects with which the applicant is involved in the UAE, if any);

2. A certificate from the official body under whose supervision the main branch works (such as the “Law Society” or “Bar Association”). Said certificate should state the date of licensing/registration of the main branch, that the main branch is duly established and licensed and provide proof of continued licensing and practice, and that no monetary or professional violations have been recorded or filed against it or any of the persons responsible for managing the main branch or any of the partners in respect of their professional duties;

3. A Resolution by the firm’s management to open a branch in Abu Dhabi, specifying the name of the resident partner(s) who will manage the branch;

4. A certificate issued by a bank indicating the financial status of the main branch, which should reflect its ability to finance the activities of the branch in Abu Dhabi, in addition to an undertaking by the main office to underwrite the Abu Dhabi branch financially plus a professional indemnity insurance policy that would cover parties that deal with the branch in Abu Dhabi and stating the value of said coverage;

5. The CVs, academic qualifications and professional licenses issued to the legal consultants selected to reside in Abu Dhabi, who may not be less than five, including one or more partner;

6. A draft plan for training and qualifying UAE law school graduates to carry out legal consultancy work, including training them at the main office, plus a statement from the applicant explaining the added value the branch in Abu Dhabi will bring to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in the event that the branch is licensed and registered; (italics mine) and

7. An undertaking from the managers of the main branch that the Abu Dhabi branch will carry out its activities according to the highest professional standards.

The General Secretariat of the Executive Council (with whom the application is lodged) has the right to request clarifications and additional documents as it deems necessary, as well as the right to communicate directly with the “supervisory authority” in the home country to inquire about any aspect of the documents submitted and it may authorise any party it deems appropriate to visit the main office to ascertain the standards maintained by the same.

The new system replaces a current licensing system that requires international firms to find a local sponsor. By removing this barrier, the EAA hopes that the new legislation will allow high quality international firms to readily enter the Abu Dhabi market.

Firms that already have a presence in Abu Dhabi will be allowed to renew their existing licenses through the new system, as and when their existing licenses expire.


For further information please contact Lucy Hicks (