The low-cost Al Adheed service allows individuals with no legal qualification, regulation or supervision to represent conflicting parties in court with no guarantee of client-lawyer confidentiality
The new legal support service announced by Dubai Courts last year is a “bad idea” and will create “serious issues” for users, legal firms and law graduates, according to the chairman of local law firm Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla.
According to its website, the Al Adheed service centre will provide “7-star” legal services, including the submission of applications for case registrations, case follow-up enquiries, marriage documentation and information about attending sessions remotely.
While the centre offers prices as low as AED52 ($14.15), it does not require its employees to have any legal degree, education, experience, regulation or supervision. As a result, they are not required by law to maintain attorney-client privilege, and are allowed to represent conflicting parties.
Speaking to Arabian Business, Dr. Habib Al Mulla, one of Dubai’s most prominent lawyers who led the legal framework establishing the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), said Al Adheed’s employees are essentially “typists” with no qualifications to practice law.
“In the midterm and long-term, it will create serious issues, because if you have a problem with your lawyers, you have a regulator who you can speak to. But if you have an issue with what is essentially a typist – because these people have no qualifications to practice law – who has mishandled your case, who will you speak? There are no regulators,” he said.
“And there is no guarantee of client-lawyer confidentiality. So they will end up representing conflicting parties and sharing confidential client information. I hope that the court executives understand the magnitude of the problem that they are creating… It was probably a bad idea that was suggested by someone who did not understand the implications of this idea...”
Under the federal advocacy law, any individual conducting legal work is required to have proper licensing, according to Al Mulla.
“Under the federal advocacy law, if you are doing any work related to the advocacy law and are drafting memos, you have to be properly licensed to do so. This is not, for example, that these centres are established to write applications or visas or for the ministry of labour,” he said.
Private companies versus public sector
Al Mulla added that Al Adheed is not merely a service centre but a government law firm competing with the private sector.
“People have perceived this service as a kind of privatisation of some of the courts’ administrative services. If that was the case, then it is fine. The customers have the right to get the best services at a reasonable cost. But the courts have not privatised or outsourced any of their services. In reality, what they have done is they have created a law firm. And they are competing directly with private law firms with an added advantage that they don’t abide with any bar laws, they don’t need qualification and they are not regulated by any regulators,” he said.
“They have preferred treatment compared with private law firms. Sheikh Mohammed himself said to promote a strong private sector. He has said that it is the backbone of Dubai. The government is taking steps to encourage the private sector. But this move is against that direction,” he added.
While the larger law firms will not be affected by the new service, smaller offices and law graduates will be competing with the government for clients, Al Mulla said.
“The larger law firms will not be, in my opinion, affected. If you have a complicated case, you wouldn’t risk it going to a non-qualified junior to write your case work. Most of the work rendered by this law firm [Al Adheed] will be low end cases so it will have an impact on smaller offices and law firms, newcomers, and those who are graduating and planning to enter into the field of law firms,” he said.
“We have thousands of lawyers registered and graduates coming out every year. Where are they going to work? Courts will be competing with them. And this law firm doesn’t require legal qualification to work in it,” he said.
Twitter user @aljokar0000 called the Al Adheed service “protection from the greed of law firms, where their prices have become like the prices of services – they increase but do not decrease. At the same time, [it will rid] the market from the many occupiers of this profession, because they are the ones inciting problems between people in cases in order to benefit from the fees.”
But Al Mulla said that while the low prices of Al Adheed’s services will attract the public at first, people will “suffer” from its “incompetency”.
“Initially, people will be happy that they’re getting very low prices, but once people suffer from the incompetency with dealing with their issues, they will realise the cost they incur is higher. It’s like having a headache and going to the pharmacy for a Panadol, when instead you realise you suffer from a serious issue a few months later when you visit an actual doctor,” he said.
The chairman suggested that courts reduce their case registration fees prior to requesting that the private sector lower its fees. “They can’t ask the private sector to reduce their costs when the courts are charging high fees to register with them. And it’s driven by a free market. If you come to me, I may charge you 10 times what another law firm would, but at the end of the day, you decide what level of competence you need.”
Mohammed Al Obaidly, executive manager of the case sector at Dubai Courts, told Khaleej Times that a committee of “experts from the courts” was formed to keep track of the centres, adding that free services would be extended to certain categories, including labourers. "The centres and their services will also be set to welcome people of determination and the elderly on a priority basis,” he said.
Legal aid is another alternative, Al Mulla said, where the government provides free council services if individuals cannot afford to pay a lawyer’s fee.
“If you want to render services for that, then offer free services. Don’t charge a license fee,” he said.
Twitter user @salem_ballama added that the argument should not revolve around lawyers’ incomes.
“I don’t know who generalised this negative point of view. Did you know that lawyers take on many case without charges (pro bono)? And they give countless of consultations free of charge? If the argument continues to be based on lawyers as materialistic people then silence is better.”