Laila al-Zwaini studied Arabic language and cultures (MA), and Dutch law (LL.M) at Leiden University. She obtained a diploma in (Islamic) Law from SOAS (London University), and was affiliated to CEDEJ (Cairo), CEFAS (San'a), and ISIM (Leiden).
Between 2007 and 2009, Al-Zwaini headed the Rule of Law Unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). From 2001-2005 she co-directed the action-research project Rights at Home for the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM, Leiden). She was also an active member of WISE Global Muslim Women Shura Council (2006-2012).
Next to her PhD-project, Al-Zwaini works as an independent scholar and lecturer, and advises national and international organisations and governments (UN, EU, DFID, USIP, IIJ, IDEA). In 2013, she established Re:Orient, a bureau for applied research on shari'a, rule of law, tribes, and social change in the Arab and Muslim World. She currently develops a project to advance the discourse on civilism (madaniya) and the civil state in the Arab world.
Her publications include The Rule of Law in Yemen: Prospects and Challenges (2012), Legal Pluralism in the Arab World (co-edited, 1999), and A Bibliography of Islamic Law, 1980-1993 (co-authored, 1994).