By Hassan Elhais
At some point or another, almost everyone needs to hire a lawyer, whether on an individual or company basis
Whether you are seeking legal counsel on behalf of your company or for yourself or your family, it is important to conduct your due diligence to find the right lawyer to represent you.
Finding a good lawyer is not as easy as just picking one at random from the phone book or calling the one who is most local to you. You need to consider your unique needs and match those to a law firm that has experience in servicing these needs.
Here are some top factors to consider while selecting a law firm:
Advocates and legal consultants
While it is possible to appoint a legal consultant firm to seek legal advice it is important to note that – in case you wish to litigate in the courts – the appointed law firm’s name must contain the wording “Advocates and Legal Consultants” and not just “Legal Consultants.”
Representation before the Courts of Appeal and the Court of Cassation
Another point to consider – while considering point 1 – is that representation before the higher courts, such as court of cassation, requires the local advocates to have a certain number of years of experience. Therefore, at the time of appointment of a law firm, it may be worth it to inquire about the number of years of experience of the local advocate.
Licensed by HH The Ruler’s Court or the Dubai Legal Affairs Department
It is important that the legal firm assisting the SME owners is appropriately licensed by the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department, which is a regulatory body that governs the registration of law firms, advocates and legal consultants in Dubai.
As per the local regulations, all documents that are required to be submitted to the court must be properly translated into Arabic. Therefore, it is crucial to deal with a law firm that has qualified Arabic speaking legal consultants and local advocates. This is to avoid any misinterpretation or translation mistake at the time of submission of relevant documents.
International associations and memberships
It is recommended to appoint law firms and advocacy offices that are accredited and associated with international networks and bars, such as American Bar Association, TAG Law, and others. Such associations and memberships show that the law firm has adequate standards and network to render professional legal services. Furthermore, access to international networks may also help clients to seek legal opinion on foreign jurisdictions and enforcement of local court orders in a foreign jurisdiction.
Search and select
We recommend to thoroughly search the profile of the law firm and the lawyer prior to referring your matter or case to them. And once you have shortlisted the concerned law firm or a lawyer, you must stick with them or follow their advice during the proceedings. Seeking multiple legal opinions from various different law firms and lawyers may cause confusion and cause unnecessary complications.
Interpretation of the UAE laws and regulations
The leverage of a lawyer comes from the uncertainty or ambiguity in the laws and regulations. Therefore, it is quite common to come across different types of strategies in a legal matter even though the end result may be the same. Therefore, it is important to appoint a law firm that has a clear understanding of the applicable laws, and not only the potential risk that an issue may possess, but also the legal implications surrounding that potential risk.
Fixed fee vs. hourly rate
All law firms generally have a fixed fee and hourly rates depending on the types of tasks or scope of work. If it is hourly rate, it is recommended to agree on a maximum cap or a threshold prior to engaging a commercial law firm. Not having such agreement may lead to unnecessary costs and expenses.
Conflict of interest
It is always recommended to ask a law firm or a lawyer whether there is a conflict of interest in representing a client’s case or transaction.
When to negotiate or litigate
Think twice before you go to the courts. Sometimes negotiation is a good option in case the other party is showing some flexibility. The case time frame is much longer than the settlement time frame. There has to be a considerable risk analysis in determining whether a particular legal matter should be negotiated or litigated. In the event a client has decided to negotiate his matter with the other party then they should offer a payment plan, expected timeline for any payment and an additional security, such as postdated cheques, to secure the payment.
Prior to referring the matter to the courts, it is always recommended to follow pre-litigation strategy, such as sending a demand letter on company’s letterhead to demand the outstanding sums followed by a legal notice through a law firm to claim such outstanding amount. If the amount remains unpaid, it may be recommended to proceed with filing the court case. Therefore, the strategy should be to find amicable solution to minimise expenses by resorting to demand letters and legal notices.
Expert reports and opinions
In some cases – specifically pertaining to complex financial transactions – it may be better to request the court to appoint a financial or accountancy expert to determine the outstanding amounts prior to filing the case. This is another way to save costs and concentrate on obtaining an expert report to determine the exact amounts that are being claimed. This discovery expert report will also help in reducing costs for court application. If the expert finds that you don’t deserve to take part of the amount then the eventual court costs – which is based on a percentage basis – may go down.
In a civil case, the claimant has the right to claim legal interest from the date of filing the court application till the collection of payment; whereas in a cheque bounced case, the claimant has the right to claim legal interest from the date of cheque till collection. Representing lawyer has to make sure that such legal interest is added in the total claim.
Settlement of a claim
In the event a case is settled during pre-litigation stage and the client has been offered the full outstanding amount, then the client should keep in mind that his lawyer’s fee has also become due at the time of such settlement. As per Article 28 of the Advocacy Law No. 23 of 1991 of the UAE, in the event of a settlement, all legal fee becomes due.
At the time of appointment of a lawyer or a law firm, it is important to note that your lawyer has been given all the relevant paperwork or documents pertaining to a case file. If there is any admission from the other party – admitting the liability – then that document may be more relevant than others. Therefore, assessing the paperwork with a view of identifying the most relevant document may save a lot of time in the court process.
Notification and guidance
The clients should co-operate with their lawyers as much as possible throughout the court proceedings. Clients should provide complete and detailed mailing addresses of respondents to avoid any unnecessary delay in the process and by accompanying the court guidance clerk to assist in serving the court notice to the other party.
If the client agrees for arbitration under a commercial contract, they should not agree to have more than one arbitrator to decide and resolve the dispute between the parties. Costs for appointing three arbitrators might be multiplied by three and as a result may not be in favour of the client to pursue the claim.
For clients engaged into provision of services or supply of goods, it may be recommended to obtain post-dated cheques to secure their payments. If the cheque bounces, the client will have a right to file a criminal case followed by a civil claim to claim the outstanding sum. As mentioned above, in a cheque bounced cases, claimants have a right to claim legal interest from the date of the cheque till collection.
Hassan Elhais is a legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultancy.
I found that there are some very good lawyers in Dubai, and also some con artists. All demanded to be paid in advance. (This was also true of lawyers in my home country).
For the con artists (here and at home), after talking me out of my money, their job was done. Since I can't read Arabic, two gave me what they said were proper responses to my case, but they were just gibberish. An Arab friend was told they'd filed his case (too technical, he wouldn't understand, so they didn't give him a copy). He later found that, after they'd talked him out of his money, they never wasted any time (or the filing fee he'd given them) filing.
But I also found some great lawyers who steered me through some legal difficulties and solved all my problems.
So it's very important (and not too easy) to find a good lawyer, not just here, but everywhere.