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Legal education gaps in UAE ‘need to be filled’

UAE Universities

By Melanie Swan

Education authorities are seeking international law schools to come to Dubai and offer professional development and further education in English to the country’s lawyers.

Employers are crying out for more law graduates, and if more universities offered such courses it would also help UAE lawyers to further their careers, providing another incentive for students to enter the profession.

An annual report compiled by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority showed 9 per cent of graduates in Dubai last year studied law.

“There is a disconnect between what students are studying and where they’re finding jobs,” said Leigh Ann Khosla, director of business development for Tecom, which manages the education free zones Knowledge Village and Dubai International Academic City.

“Most are studying areas like business and finance and they’re the hardest areas to get jobs, whereas in law there is huge demand for local skill and talent.

“It’s the same at graduate level and also middle and senior management level. It’s the most highly outsourced field for training with little or no inhouse training. From our own research we have found that law took up 33 per cent of the areas industry wants to see more talent in.”

Tecom is now trying to find more vocational providers to offer continuing professional development to students.

Only the Michigan State University campus in Dubai offers a master’s degree in jurisprudence that focuses on the study and theory of international law.

It began offering the programmes after its undergraduate operations closed in 2010.

Its courses are open to the public, whether legally trained or not, with many students adding to their business skills with knowledge in areas such as international contract law.

Imad Abu Zaina recently completed the two-year course at MSU and took a job at Ernst and Young on a salary more than three times higher than that of previous position at a law firm in Dubai.

Mr Abu Zaina, 29, studied in Palestine at the Arab-American University and had no international legal knowledge before starting the course at MSU.

“MSU has really opened a lot of doors. It gave me great experience and access to real expertise,” he said.

“At the Arab universities in the region we don’t get this expertise. There isn’t the same level of research going on.”

Fady Nader, a partner at Ernst and Young, said such opportunities for Arab lawyers were vital and he would welcome more.

“The international education Imad was exposed to gave him access to a more global way of thinking and international materials, rather than only looking at things happening in the region,” said Mr Nader.

“He was able to get that and apply it to local clients. We need to be able to give our clients experience with local issues but finding a solution that’s applicable in the global context.”

Tarek Nakkach, legal council for Hewlett-Packard, is due to complete the MSU course.

“There are no master’s of law or LLM courses offered by renowned foreign universities in the UAE [other than MSU], so it is extremely important to provide this opportunity to students in the UAE,” Mr Nakkach said.

He said such courses would help lawyers to enhance their careers and for Dubai to further its reputation as a regional centre for education.

“It is definitely most beneficial for lawyers who have not studied or practised the common law system. It would expose them to a new system and broaden their skills and expertise,” Mr Nakkach said.

“It will definitely assist in employability, especially for American law firms or multinationals who prefer to hire graduates from American universities.” (The National)

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