Senior associate, Galadari Advocates & Legal Consultants
My first degree was in ancient history and archaeology, after which I travelled the world to see the cultures I’d studied, supported by labouring jobs. I realised that everywhere people use steel, but almost no one knows how to work steel. So I learned how to weld and set up a business in London creating ‘wrought iron’-style work. When age began to encroach upon recovery time from injuries, I decided to retrain as a lawyer.
Having qualified, I went to work for a quantity surveying consultant, which was the best possible training for construction and engineering contracts. I handled dispute resolution and soon found that if you understand disputes, you are better placed for the ‘front end’ work of preparing construction contracts.
I have encountered individuals who have no concept of right and wrong, and for whom the ‘bottom line’ is the only thing that matters. It is difficult to advise such people on concepts of law.
At our simplest, lawyers are facilitators who provide the basis upon which clients conduct business. It is essential to listen to the client and understand not only the issues they describe, but also the broader context of what they want to achieve.
Generally, trained lawyers understand how the game is played and that one should behave professionally. Difficulties arise when lawyers allow work to become personal. Also, here in Dubai, lawyers come from a broad range of cultures and the training is not necessarily the same in all jurisdictions.
In construction, professional consultants sometimes resent lawyers, seeing them as interfering in a good project and complicating issues. There is a negative image of lawyers in the west, and I have to explain that not all lawyers are cheating rogues; it is only 99% that give the rest of us a bad name!
Some clients want to be told what they want to hear, rather than what we need to tell them.
Barristers are generally well trained, understand their area of speciality and add real value. It is important to keep them under control. Some appear not to have actually read the papers, but generally the standard is high.
Poorly drafted laws cause problems, and judge-made laws of the common law system can produce startling decisions. ‘Pay when paid’ provisions are outlawed in the UK construction industry but are still permitted in the UAE, which can cause injustice to contractors and sub-contractors.
The pace is faster now and the competition is more intense. The pressure to achieve targets can cause junior lawyers to undertake tasks for which they are out of their depth. On the other hand, solicitors in England may act as advocates and barristers may conduct litigation, with the necessary training, which can benefit the client.
There is no doubt that standards have risen as a result of specialisation, and that clients can more easily access high-quality advice. However, this can lead to lawyers being unable or unwilling to advise on associated issues or to see the broader picture.