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From The UK To The GCC: The Journey Of Aramas International Lawyers Founder Samara Iqbal "Once the business is set up, it is then marketing the brand, and then networking, to make sure you are getting the work. Also, working with local agencies, officials, other lawyers and the government- it is all challenging, but truly rewarding!"

By Tamara Pupic

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Samara Iqbal

"It takes a lot of determination," says Samara Iqbal, founder, Solicitor, and Director of Aramas International Lawyers (Aramas), an international law firm specializing in divorce and family matters of expatriate clients worldwide, in response to a question about how she went about setting up her law practice in multiple markets across the GCC. While she had launched the enterprise as Aramas Family Law in the UK in 2019, Iqbal went on to open its offices in Riyadh, Doha, and Abu Dhabi under the name of Aramas International Lawyers. "It takes research and time on each location, and then, even once you have a license, the process involves making sure deadlines for filing documents, money laundering, free zone requirements and each aspect of maintain and legally running the business is up to date and compliant," Iqbal says. "Once the business is set up, it is then marketing the brand, and then networking, to make sure you are getting the work. Also, working with local agencies, officials, other lawyers and the government- it is all challenging, but truly rewarding!"

Having gained a M.A. in Islamic Education at the University of Winchester, and having qualified as a solicitor in the UK in 2012, Iqbal landed a job as a lawyer in Dubai with a local firm- this was where she got interested in family law and international family law cases. "I registered as a legal consultant with the Dubai Ruler's Court, and I then experienced the niche area of divorce litigation in the UAE, mainly the Dubai Courts," she says. Four years later, she moved back to the UK and started a family; however, her interest in this subject matter remained, and that led her to founding Aramas. "The main issues that our clients face is deciding on where they should divorce (i.e. jurisdiction), given the nature of how they expect the divorce to be (i.e agreed/amicable or difficult)," Iqbal explains. "Based on this, our clients then have to look at which jurisdictions (of those that available to them) would best assist their needs in terms of assets, children, etc."

Today, Aramas has nine full time employed staff, in addition to local consultants and support staff, across the four jurisdictions. In terms of business development figures, Iqbal says that "it has tripled in growth." Her team deals with cases that range from basic divorce cases with no assets, to very high-net-worth cases, which, Iqbal reveals, include millions of dollars and assets based in a multitude of jurisdictions. "Very typically what happens is that a person married in one jurisdiction has assets in their home country, and then they move to the UAE, for example, and obtain assets in Dubai, and then they also invest in other assets in other countries, and so on," she says. "This can be tricky, and we have to work with lawyers in other jurisdictions and financial advisors, get advice, and manage this in the country where we decide to file and issue proceedings in." One of the main struggles of couples going through divorce proceedings is agreeing over custody arrangements. "For example, as soon as a marriage breaks down, one side wants to leave the UAE and return home, and the other side does not, and if there are children involved, this is a big sticking point, and things get intense," Iqbal explains. "We always encourage trying to reach an agreement as far as possible regarding children, and what is in their best interests, without the need of litigation."

When it comes to working on family law cases, Iqbal advises lawyers to always demonstrate emotional depth. "In one particularly emotional case, despite my efforts to facilitate a smooth negotiation process, tensions remained high between the spouses, making it challenging to reach a resolution," she shares. "One day, during a particularly intense mediation session, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of focusing solely on legal arguments and financial settlements, I took the time to listen attentively to each spouse's concerns, and empathize with their emotional struggles. Through open and honest communication, I helped the couple realize that while their marriage had ended, they still shared a deep connection through their children. By shifting the focus towards co-parenting, and fostering a healthy relationship for the sake of their family, we were able to find common ground and reach a mutually beneficial agreement. This experience reinforced the importance of compassion and empathy in family law cases, reminding me that sometimes, the most effective resolutions come from addressing the emotional needs of clients as well as their legal ones."

Related: For The Greater Good: Amnah Ajmal, Executive Vice President, Market Development, Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Mastercard

Samara Iqbal launched Aramas Family Law in the UK in 2019, and went on to open its offices in Riyadh, Doha, and Abu Dhabi under the name of Aramas International Lawyers. Source: Aramas International Lawyers

Looking ahead, Iqbal plans to stay ahead of the curve by staying abreast of legal developments worldwide, leveraging technology for remote consultations and document sharing, and tailoring solutions to meet the unique needs of clients navigating cross-border issues like custody and divorce. In terms of advice for her peers in the entrepreneurial arena, she says that it's important to prioritize building a strong foundation of knowledge in the areas they specialize in. "This includes understanding the intricacies of jurisdictional issues, treaties, and conventions relevant to cross-border divorces for myself, for example," she explains. "Additionally, investing in language skills and cultural competency can be invaluable when working with clients from diverse backgrounds." Lastly, Iqbal points out that cultivating a network of contacts within the legal community, both domestically and internationally, can provide support as well as opportunities for collaboration. And by combining such strategies with her passion for helping families navigate complex legal landscapes, Iqbal is thus clearly poised to continue making a significant impact in the field of international family law.

'TREP TALK: Aramas International Lawyers' Samara Iqbal shares her dos and don'ts for entrepreneurs doing business in the Middle East

1. Do research the market "Understand the cultural, economic, and legal landscape of the specific country or region where you plan to establish your business. Conduct thorough market research to identify opportunities and challenges."

2. Do establish local partnerships "Cultivate relationships with local partners, advisors, and stakeholders who can provide insights into the local business environment, navigate regulatory requirements, and facilitate networking opportunities."

3. Do respect cultural norms "Familiarize yourself with the cultural norms, customs, and business etiquette prevalent in the Middle East. Respect for local traditions, values, and hierarchy can go a long way in building trust and fostering successful business relationships."

4. Do comply with legal and regulatory requirements "Ensure compliance with local laws, regulations, and licensing requirements when setting up your business. Seek guidance from legal experts or consultants well-versed in Middle Eastern business laws to avoid any legal pitfalls."

5. Do adapt your business model "Tailor your business model and marketing strategies to align with the preferences and expectations of consumers in the Middle East. Be open to adapting your products, services, and branding to cater to local tastes and preferences."

6. Don't disregard cultural sensitivities "Avoid behaviors or actions that may be perceived as disrespectful or offensive to the local culture. This includes being mindful of dress codes, communication styles, and religious sensitivities."

7. Don't underestimate bureaucratic processes "Be prepared for bureaucratic processes and administrative delays when dealing with government agencies and regulatory bodies. Patience and persistence are key when navigating bureaucratic hurdles."

8. Don't assume homogeneity "Recognize the diversity within the Middle East region in terms of culture, language, and business practices. Avoid generalizations, and take the time to understand the nuances of each market you wish to enter."

9. Don't neglect relationship-building "Building trust and rapport through personal connections and face-to-face meetings is essential in Middle Eastern business culture. Avoid relying solely on digital communication, and prioritize building strong interpersonal relationships."

Related: An Introduction To The Legal Landscape Of The UAE

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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