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Foreign firms in Oman are to lose their independent status under a new law which will force them into joint ownership with local lawyers.
A decree issued in December by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos limits the duration of licences of foreign legal consultancy offices to three years after the date the law comes into effect, at which point they will have to share ownership with an Omani national.
Nicholas Edmondes, head of the Trowers & Hamlin office in Oman, where David Wilson has just been appointed the second partner, said that the move had been expected for some time.
"This comes as no huge shock; there are various examples of this elsewhere in the Gulf, so it's not really a worry to me. It's inevitable in a country like Oman that they would want to provide encouragement to local lawyers," he said.
Edmondes believes that the rule change is the culmination of a drive to encourage more young, local people to enter the legal profession over the past few months. This has included the opening of a new legal faculty where people can be trained domestically for the first time.
He added that in order to comply with the new rules, foreign firms would have to take on local partners, but that he viewed this in a positive light.
"Obviously the logical conclusion is that when there is a sufficient cadre of local lawyers, there may be further laws to restrict foreign firms, but, speaking to local judges, I don't think that will happen overnight," he said.
"We have been here for 17 years, and were the first to take on a local trainee."
The same law has also introduced a register of law firms which will grade firms according to their ability and suitability to appear in various courts. "We have access to all the courts but I know other firms which do not and we are not sure how the assessments are done," said Edmondes.
In a separate development, the Emirate of Dubai, which has a legal system that is independent from the rest of the United Arab Emirates, has taken a more generous attitude than the other Emirates towards the exclusion of non-UAE nationals from advocacy.
A federal law which applies to most of the UAE excludes non-nationals from advocacy but in Dubai those foreign lawyers who are already qualified and licensed to advocate will be allowed to continue as long as they submit a power of attorney stating the name of a national lawyer they work for. The strict UAE nationality requirement will apply only to those applying for licences to practice for the first time.