By Neil King
Arabian Business Start Up sat down with The Lawyers Business Group to get the lowdown on how entrepreneurs in Dubai can get free legal advice
Knowing the law is an essential part of starting a business. But all too often people are tempted to bypass lawyers in an attempt to save time, money and effort, leading themselves into trouble further down the line.
Which is a prime reason why the Lawyers Business Group has been set up.
Determined to stop entrepreneurs and small businesses making mistakes at the start of their enterprise, and to dispel the misconception that lawyers are the enemy of start-up businesses, the LBG offers free consultations to businessmen and women who want expert advice on a number of issues.
The group describes its mission as being “to co-ordinate alliance between the business owners on the one side and the lawyers of Dubai on the other,” by providing “full support, guidance, engagement in public policy advocacy, improving community legal education and enhancing community economic development, as well as a multitude of other legal services.”
It’s a bold statement of intent, and one which the members of the group feel passionately about.
Chairman of the LBG, Mr Ali Sultan Al Haddad of Al Haddad & Associates, says: “We want to help society. We believe in doing this job and are taking the opportunity to say thank you to the country that’s provided a lot for us.”
Comprising seven Dubai law firms, with a combined total of about 70 lawyers from various backgrounds, the LBG was formed in April 2012 and provides a unique legal clinic service, as well as helping develop the economic and trade landscape of Dubai.
Group co-ordinator Nadine Jaafar says: “What we do is assist entrepreneurs to stand on their own two feet. We try to make the relationships between us and our clients as close as possible, trying our best to save them from traps they might otherwise fall into.
“Nobody else is doing what we’re doing. The legal clinic is an open clinic available to anybody with a legal business. A lot of law firms take advantage of the fact entrepreneurs need and seek legal advice. They charge by the hour, by the size of the case, or various other things. This is not what the LBG does.
“These people have been in business for years and aren’t thinking about the money. They are people who really love Dubai and want to put something back into it.”
Collaborating with multiple committees from Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the group aims to promote the best image of Dubai’s trade sector and goes to the root of the matter by helping business start in the right way.
While relevant information was already available to entrepreneurs, Mr Ali Sultan Al Haddad believes it was not easily accessible for those who needed it.
“The idea was to help the business environment by helping people establish companies, explain how to protect their business ideas, and so on. We found out that there are only a few government entities providing this information and it wasn’t the quality that’s required. So we came as lawyers and went to the chamber of commerce to establish this group.
“Any businessman who has an idea in his mind has big questions to answer. How to protect your idea? How to register it? How to start the business? These are common with all businessmen and should be answered by those who know how to do it. The proper way to do it. This is what we are trying to do.
“You can go onto the internet and find the information in different areas, but not in one place. We are trying to gather the information and make it simple for people who would like to start a business.”
Trying to strip away the perceived difficulties of working with lawyers, the LBG tries to make first contact as easy as possible.
Advice on areas of law including civil and property, corporate and commercial, labour and employment, litigation and dispute, and banking and finance, are available at the click of a button.
Mr. Yousuf Khalifa Bin Hammad of member firm Hammad & Associates says: “There are many ways to connect with us. Through the website you can ask any question related to your business or enterprise, or you can get in contact with us by phone if it’s important to explain something that’s difficult to type.
“We can meet if it’s necessary, as there might be some papers or communications that we need to see. Sometimes it’s hard for people to explain what they need from us.”
Mr Ali Sultan Al Haddad adds: “The idea of the legal clinic is to give free advice – 30 minutes to an hour. Your question will be emailed to one of the group and within two working days we will provide the answer for you.
“If we need to call you, we will do so in two working days as well. Sometimes it requires a personal interview or meeting.”
By gathering a varied collection of local law firms and their lawyers, the LBG is able to cover a lot of ground, almost guaranteeing there will be an expert available to handle any particular question.
Mr Ali Sultan Al Haddad emphasised that the seven law firms have a history of working together and explained how this is a benefit to anybody who wishes to take advantage of the group.
“Co-operation among these law firms has been there from the beginning – not just because of the group,” he says.
“From a long time ago we were working together. Now, if there is a problem or a case needs a solution, I can ask a colleague to give a second opinion or some expert advice.
“For example, not all lawyers are familiar with the Islamic banking system. In this instance the case can be referred to somebody else.”
Mr. Yousuf Khalifa Bin Hammad adds: “The board members are mixed, as is the group in general. For example, sometimes a client would prefer to meet with a female lawyer, and so they are free to do so.”
As well as ease of accessibility, the LBG is addressing the stigma of money. The reputation of lawyers as eager to take your vital start-up funds is unfair, says the group, and aims to back-up its claims by offering not only the free advice but further savings if there is a case which must be taken further.
Any legal case would be taken on by one of the law firms involved in the LBG, rather than the LBG itself.
LBG member Mr Haider Salem Bin Haider says: “Traditionally people don’t want to deal with doctors or lawyers. They think they just take the money. This isn’t true.”
Mr Ali Sultan Al Haddad continues: “Our service is free, but if we need to hire an expert from outside it will be charged. But not at the normal price. We will still try to help by charging a lower price.
“The reason we offer special rates is that we believe entrepreneurs should be allowed to continue, and in order to do this they need to use their money rather than spending it all on legal fees.”
Mr. Yousuf Khalifa Bin Hammad adds: “Some people might have a real case and we are not handling that as the LBG. We are handling those through our law firms. It will be an internal procedure to decide which law firm in the group can handle the case because sometimes it will need a specialist in a certain field.”
Money and accessibility aside, the group believes its greatest challenge is in getting business people to trust them. The LBG hopes to improve the reputation of lawyers in Dubai, making it easier for the business community to approach them with their issues, and thereby improving trade in the region.
Mr. Yousuf Khalifa Bin Hammad says: “We want to make strong relationships between all groups and all partners. If they ask the important questions before they start, they will avoid making mistakes later on.
“We want to help society, to help people and to help business. We want to let people know that we are part of them.”
Mr Ali Sultan Al Haddad adds: “These days a lot of people are afraid of lawyers, or don’t like them. As well as that, if you’ve not dealt with lawyers before you don’t necessarily know who the best people are to go to. Who to trust is the question, and there isn’t a lot of trust towards lawyers.”
“Fingers on a hand are not the same, and so it is with lawyers,” continues Mr. Yousuf Khalifa Bin Hammad.
“Not all lawyers are good, not all lawyers are bad. But some people issue a judgment without even trying to talk to us. This is something we want to change. Some people have had bad experiences before, but that doesn’t make us all bad. We are human and we are trying to make people understand this.”
Rather than being wary of lawyers, the LBG encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to come forward and speak with the group.
Its members assert that rather than losing money, the valuable advice and assistance could actually save you money in the long-run.
Mr Ali Sultan Al Haddad explains: “Usually people try to cut expenses, and will try to cut costs by not having lawyer fees. But there are many things you could need a lawyer for and it could save you a lot of money to talk to one before you start.
“It’s a common mistake. People will try to do things themselves, and then when they complicate matters they come to use. We will try to help them avoid this.
“We would encourage people to start their business through the LBG. I believe it would add a lot. We would like Dubai to be promoted like Hong Kong or Singapore – the role models in business environments.
“If we can contribute towards going in that direction, we would be honoured.”