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Legal services in the Middle East

Legal services in the Middle East

Land of opportunity by Leo Dyson

Illustration: iStockphoto

To help meet burgeoning demand for legal services in the Middle East, DLA Piper has introduced ground-breaking technology that is proving to be a powerful differentiator for its practice in the UAE Operating in the rapidly changing environment of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) poses new challenges for multinational legal services organisations. With over 120 lawyers spread across five offices (and more to come over the next few months), DLA Piper’s focus has shifted to equipping our lawyers with a set of industry standard tools and identifying ways to differentiate our service offering from that of competing firms. Online technology initiatives have played a key role in this process. Due to their scale and complexity many UAE projects create a mass of documentation. DLA Piper has teamed up with highvalue document management specialists Affinitext to provide online libraries for clients’ major projects and transactions, enabling clients and their venture partners to quickly find and understand vital information buried in high-value documents. This online delivery tool makes it possible to capture critical knowledge over the life of a project or major transaction. It

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allows for the easy addition of private and public annotations and dynamic integration of new project knowledge including legal opinions and venture partner queries, which are crosslinked at the point of relevance for online reference at the click of a link. Users can search, annotate and resolve complex issues across thousands of pages in minutes to simplify decision making and reduce risk. The head of DLA Piper’s finance and projects practice in the Middle East, Damian McNair, was the main proponent behind the firm’s decision to change the way in which complex project documents were being delivered to clients. ‘Effective communication is a key deliverable for any law firm,’ he says. ‘However, the traditional approach of producing a suite of finance and project documents of many hundreds or even thousands of pages can be at odds with that objective. We had to find a better way.’ This service has provided the firm with a unique point of differentiation in the local legal market and has contributed to the

Legal Technology Journal

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Issue 11

Legal Technology Journal

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Legal services in the Middle East

Legal services in the Middle East

Our lawyers and key clients have access to probably the most sophisticated and user-friendly online database of a country’s legislative instruments, in both English and Arabic. firm being appointed to advise on a number of the largest and most prestigious UAE development projects. Having adopted the Affinitext format for a number of clients’ major projects, DLA Piper soon identified a unique application for this technology to solve a persistent challenge facing all firm’s practising in the UAE. All UAE legislation is in Arabic. Until now, there has been no central repository of UAE laws either in hard copy or electronic form. This made it challenging to find and understand relevant UAE law and to advise clients appropriately. Jim Delkousis, DLA Piper’s head of litigation and regulatory in the Middle East, took on the responsibility for knowledge management in the region shortly after joining the firm in July 2007. ‘We didn’t think it was good enough to accept that accessing the law in the UAE and Middle East was difficult and that was simply a fact of life,’ he explains. ‘Our clients and the lawyers that we recruit deserve much better.’ Very soon after DLA Piper established itself in the UAE, it took the decision to apply the necessary legal and technical resources to tackle the difficulty in accessing UAE laws. DLA Piper took the view that in order to provide fully informed, consistent and efficient legal advice to clients, access to a complete database of all legislation, coupled with intuitive search and navigation would be critical. Working with Affinitext, DLA Piper has developed a comprehensive online UAE legislation library for its lawyers and selected clients. The result is unique. By September 2008, the legislation library contained more than 1,200 UAE laws, with the remainder to be incorporated by the end of 2008. This unique legislative library is now accessible anywhere via a secure internet connection. Users are able to navigate, interrogate and integrate information from documents and embedded advice, opinions or annotations, either on a selected basis or across the entire library. The relevant original Arabic version is also available for reference at the click of a button.

in any given situation. In most jurisdictions this fundamental requirement is already well established through government or third-party publishers; but this was not the case in the UAE. DLA Piper believed it was an absolute requirement to give each of its lawyers in the region online access to resources they were accustomed to from their previous jurisdiction, or that they would otherwise come to expect. The decision was also taken to utilise the best available technology, taking the advantage of choosing the best and latest solutions when creating something new, a step beyond systems available outside of the UAE. From an organisational standpoint, DLA Piper realised that online search with integration of proprietary analysis and opinions would also mean that critical practice knowledge would be held in an explicit rather than tacit form, retained inside the organisation for all to share. This would help to overcome the potential of key knowledge just ‘walking out the door’. The firm recognises the value of turning personal knowledge into corporate knowledge. DLA Piper believed this aspect alone would see the firm’s investment in a comprehensive technology solution increase in value over time for this practice region, contrasting starkly with traditional decreases in value for the firm over time associated with individual-based research and knowledge development. It also recognises that ongoing investment in time and effort is required to ensure that the library is always up to date. Just as importantly, it recognised that finding the right technology solution would enable the firm to provide a unique service unmatched by competitors, which would not only uniquely differentiate DLA Piper in the local legal services market, but would also be a significant feature in attracting the best legal talent to the firm.

The service imperative for clients In defining requirements for the new technology solution, DLA Piper identified five central benefits that the new system needed to deliver to clients:

There had to be the provision for clients to be continually updated on changed or new legislation in their areas of interest, with the ability for the client to choose the nature of the alerts from time to time.

5. Embedded knowledge and legal opinions The system had to provide the ability for a client, in viewing any particular paragraph or article of the legislation, to view any related DLA Piper update notes, as well as any relevant legal opinions provided to the client on a group/user secured basis.

Practical first steps to gathering laws of the local jurisdiction Once the need had been identified, the challenge became how to solve it. It was quickly apparent that: •

There was neither a single source of UAE law in the official Arabic version, nor a single source of (reliable) English translations.

This gave rise not only to the very real regional difficulty of being able to advise on the law – if I can’t find the law, how am I going to advise on it? – but also to being able to understand the law once located. Many lawyers working in the region do not read or write in Arabic, so reliable translations of the law are critical.

So the first step was to physically locate all the relevant UAE legislation and associated documents. This in itself was a big challenge involving a lengthy process of going through the various publications and communications of numerous UAE Government Ministries and cross-checking against every published law gazette produced in the region. This meticulous cross referencing enabled DLA Piper to check that all docu-

One of the things that any legal professional expects in any jurisdiction or organisation is access to the laws of that jurisdiction. ments in the growing library agreed with each other without contradictions or later replacements. The intellectual rigour of this careful process provided the foundation for the solution. Next, once this material had been identified, it was important to translate it as accurately and sympathetically as possible. As no official translation exists for these laws, it was vital that whatever technical solution was used, reference back to the original law in Arabic would be available before providing final advice to the client. Through this exhaustive translation project DLA Piper established the first comprehensive and reliable English translation of the local jurisdiction’s body of law.

Implementing a powerful technology solution for high-value documentation and legislation DLA Piper worked with Affinitext to implement a comprehensive solution and to apply this technology to build the first comprehensive online library of the laws of the UAE. The English translations of the UAE body of law are converted to the required format to be input into Affinitext’s platform. The conversion process takes the source documents in Word, PDF or other format and promptly converts them into the required format. The conversion to this format makes it much easier to access, navigate, read and understand.

1. Direct online access to resources for clients The specified solution needed to enable clients to share access to the new knowledge base. This was something that in-house legal teams would not have the time or resources to construct.

2. Significant cost savings The specified solution needed to deliver efficiencies. Instead of spending time sourcing (and translating) relevant legislation, the firm wanted access within a few clicks of the mouse and a search term or two. This automation would save many hours of chargeable time.

Increasing access to and the understanding of the laws of local jurisdictions

3. Consistency and quality of legal advice

One of the things that any legal professional expects in any jurisdiction or organisation is access to the laws of that jurisdiction. After all, you need to find and understand the relevant law to be able to give advice on it. This is probably the key knowledge management resource for any legal-service provider

The specified solution needed to provide a central resource, carefully maintained, cross-referenced and researched, to ensure that clients always received the most up-to-date and consistent advice, independent of the particular issue being advised on or who they are dealing with inside the practice.

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4. Alerts and updates

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Legal services in the Middle East

Legal services in the Middle East

Through an exhaustive translation project, DLA Piper established the first comprehensive and reliable English translation of the local jurisdiction’s body of law Understanding interrelationships within and between laws is critical to providing effective legal advice to clients. The legislation library places the focus squarely on the value of the content and understanding the knowledge buried within legislation and legal opinions. Key features include:

to guidance notes and to the underlying original PDF or Word source documents. Further, at a mouse click a user can also see all knowledge and opinions attached to any law or selection of laws and also click through to access the Arabic version. Jim Delkousis explains. ‘In a very short period of time we have gone from practicing in a jurisdiction in which simply finding the law, let alone advising on it, was notoriously difficult – not to mention the sleepless nights that caused me – to a situation where our lawyers and key clients have access to probably the most sophisticated and user-friendly online database of a country’s legislative instruments, in both English and Arabic. The advantages have been enormous, ranging from our ability to advise in the UAE on a consistent and efficient basis, to the ability to attract the best talent into the firm. But my favourite continues to be the consistent reaction of clients when they have their first demonstration of the library, particularly general counsel that have experienced the past frustration of providing legal advice in the UAE. That reaction is priceless.’

Easy document selection

The future

Users can select which law or laws they want to review using the intuitive bookshelf interface, where it is easy to select multiple documents at once, combining information from several sources.

Based on initial success of the project, DLA Piper is already working with Affinitext on possible future enhancements to the legislation library including: •

Extending the system’s powerful English search capabilities to also enable direct search of the underlying Arabic content.

Arabic localisation of the legislation library interface to enable users to not only click though from English content to the corresponding Arabic document, which is currently possible, but also to be able, in the future, to switch the library interface between English and Arabic at the click of a button to enable users to interact with the library in their language of choice and navigate within and between Arabic documents using the system’s powerful cross-linking and onscreen navigation capabilities which are currently available in English.

Intuitive navigation and content display Time is saved with easy navigation across selected documents using intuitive navigation. Users can click through from linked references to definitions/clauses/paragraphs to open the relevant law at the pin-point article or paragraph. The simplicity of the user interface means clients can start using it immediately without training.

Powerful search Users can find information faster with split-screen viewing making it possible to select any entry from the index (or search results) in the contents pane to jump straight to the relevant law in the viewing pane, at the exact article or paragraph of relevance.

Pop-up definitions Paper is notoriously frustrating to read because of the constant need, once you have found the English version of the law, to flip backwards and forwards to find cross-referenced definitions and related articles or laws. The hyperlinked format enables the user to read straight through, with every definition appearing as a pop-up, including definitions within definitions and cross-linking from definitions to articles or other laws at the point of relevance.

The legislation library presently contains not only UAE laws, but a selection of laws from other countries in the Middle East such as Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The vision is for the library to ultimately house the complete Arabic and English translations of laws from these and other Middle East jurisdictions.

Future licensing potential for DLA Piper to share the legislation library with other organisations, given the regional growth and the demonstrated benefits for business of access to English translations of all the local jurisdiction body of law.

Conclusion The legislation library has solved one of the major challenges faced by the firm operating in the UAE region – lack of access to local jurisdiction law. DLA Piper has created a standard translated set of UAE laws, held online and fully searchable using Affinitext’s high-value document platform. This has brought significant gains in addition to knowledge retention. Organisationally, the firm benefits from knowledge sharing – providing access to this information to anyone in the business who requires it. It has also created a distinct market differentiator in a highly competitive legal service market, enabling the firm to remain ahead of the pack. For the DLA Piper lawyer, the ease with which relevant law can be found, without the need for extensive research and translation, has had a significant impact on working practices, enabling more efficient working. Benefits to the client include cost savings, improved responsiveness, faster turnaround and more consistent advice. Although the creation of this online legislation library required significant commitment from the firm, the return on investment can already be demonstrated. The firm is now advising a number of the largest iconic projects in the region, attracting and retaining the region’s leading legal talent. The next step is to explore the business potential for targeted licensing of the legislation library to other organisations in the region.

Leo Dyson is a project leader at DLA Piper.

Ongoing capture of new laws and legal opinions Previous access to local laws

DLA Piper’s online UAE legislation library

Passive documents

Intelligent, dynamic online format

Limited access

Distributed access anywhere, anytime

Designed for printing

On-screen readability

Difficult to search

Powerful searching and interrogation

Not interlinked

Easy navigation [100% hyperlinked]

Increasing complexity

Increasing understanding

Linking of laws and knowledge Users can understand and resolve complex issues faster and easier due to the intelligent cross-linking across and between articles and related laws. This style of linking means interrelated laws, articles, defined terms, annotations, legal opinions and other references are all a mouse click away. Users can drill down from primary laws and articles to definitions, to legal opinions,

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Legal Technology Journal

Issue 11

Issue 11

Legal Technology Journal

47

Legal Technology Journal November 2008  

Article on DLA Piper using new technology to provide a comrehensive English translated library of all UAE legislation