Arab Gulf Universities Prep Students for Civil, Common Law Careers

Emirati citizen Ahmad Dalmook didn't have to look far for a role model. For 34 years, his father has headed a Dubai-based law firm that specializes in real estate disputes, banking and Islamic banking, marine law and construction law. It is a legacy that Dalmook -- who is pursuing a Bachelor of Law at the University of Sharjah -- plans to continue.

"I believe that if you study law you understand how the world works," says Dalmook. "It teaches you how everything around you is either protected or organized by the law. It is the main foundation of a society."

Dalmook considered law schools in the United Kingdom but chose to stay in the United Arab Emirates to practice advanced Arabic speaking and writing skills, since the language of UAE courts is Arabic. He says the university's diverse faculty helps students evolve their litigation and logical thinking skills.

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"Some of the courses are taught in English, which exposes students to study other jurisdictions such as the EU and U.S.," says Bashar Malkawi, acting dean of the University of Sharjah College of Law.

Malkawi says students participate in moot court competitions locally, regionally and internationally. The competitions involve mock courts where students try hypothetical cases, which Malkawi calls "great exposure for students to real-life issues." Many students have secured internships for large and international law firms like Clyde & Co in Dubai.

Hiring in the legal field is growing in the UAE. Robert Webb, a legal consultant at staffing agency Robert Half in Dubai, says the firm's salary research revealed legal salaries are expected to increase in the UAE by 1.5 percent this year from 2014, according to the " Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide." The top four legal positions in demand are paralegals, construction litigators, corporate/commercial lawyers, and banking and finance lawyers.

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"Within the last year it has been apparent that the core skills requested within the legal market have been primarily focused on bilingual lawyers who are fluent in both Arabic and English and in particular, lawyers who have been educated from the U.K. and the U.S.," says Webb.

But students seeking U.K.- or U.S.-style law degrees need not go abroad. The U.S.-based Northwestern University School of Law is helping guide Qatar's Hamad bin Khalifa University in its plans to establish a new law school in Doha. Set to open in the fall, the school will offer a three-year postgraduate J.D. degree.

The Dubai branch of the U.K.'s Middlesex University launched its undergraduate LL.B. honors program in September 2014. It is the only British qualifying law degree -- recognized by the two main legal professional bodies in England and Wales -- with a physical presence in the UAE.

"I chose MDX because it's the first of its kind in the UAE, that being a British university offering a common law degree in English," says Hiba Tawfik, whose interest is in human rights. She says the program will allow her to obtain a license or sit for the bar in several countries, including her home country of Sudan.

Fellow student Alia El-Abiary, a British Egyptian, is still undecided on a specialization, but plans to work in a law firm in Dubai, where she has lived the past 10 years. She says the small classes and seminars allow for interactive learning.

"It has been great to experience both British law as well as learning about the rules upheld in the UAE," says El-Abiary.

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Tenia Kyriazi, a senior lecturer in law and the campus program coordinator for the LL.B. at Middlesex University Dubai, says students seeking to study law in the UAE have two options: study common law or civil law. Common law is created by judges in court decisions, while civil law is created through legislation by a civil authority and applied to all cases.

"If they want to qualify in the U.K. or any other common law jurisdiction, they should enroll in an LL.B. program," she says. "Alternatively, they can complete their studies in a law school at a local university where the local legal system is taught. In the case of UAE, this is civil law with Sharia law."

Kyriazi says LL.B. graduates typically pursue careers as a solicitor, barrister, legal executive or paralegal, or can perform community advisory work or work at in-house legal departments. In the UAE only UAE nationals can be admitted to the bar, Kyriazi says, though lawyers of other nationalities can work as legal consultants at local and international law firms.

"The UAE is a civil law-Sharia jurisdiction, with the exception of offshore zones, such as the Dubai International Financial Center, a common-law jurisdiction where most of the international law firms are based," says Kyriazi.

Ultimately, Dalmook hopes to follow in his father's footsteps, who for 11 years served as a member of the UAE's unicameral legislature, the Federal National Council, where he was head of the legislative committee. Before joining his father's firm, Dalmook plans to head to the U.S. to pursue a Master of Laws, or LL.M. degree, with Harvard University as his top choice if he secures a spot.

"Studying at Ivy League schools, which consider their law programs as elite programs, would help me develop more logical thinking skills, as they have the best law professors the country has to provide," says Dalmook. "By engaging into conversations with them and discussions, I believe it will teach me different perspectives of how they solve legal matters."

See the complete rankings of the Best Arab Region Universities.

Anayat Durrani is a Los Angeles-based freelance education reporter for U.S. News, covering Arab region universities.

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