The international dimension

3.9     International legal practice is a high value area of activity in England and Wales, one which highlights the segmentation of UK legal services into largely separate corporate and private client spheres. So far as the regulated professions are concerned, there is in broad terms a distinction to be drawn between those professions or individual entities whose practices are exclusively or essentially international in character and those which are not. Notaries (particularly scrivener notaries) and IP attorneys perceive their professions to be inherently (even if not exclusively) international in outlook and operation. Whilst the same is not true of the barristers’ and solicitors’ professions, international practice is nonetheless dominated by a relatively small number of international law firms, and the commercial Bar.

3.10     UK lawyers are still beneficiaries of the value attached to English law in international commerce, and the ‘rule of law’ agenda that has, since the Washington Consensus, shaped the activities of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, but the environment is acknowledged to be increasingly challenging. It is in the ‘City’ part of the sector that the links between the global economy and legal practice are, unsurprisingly, the strongest. Consequently the two key economic drivers in this area are likely to be the future of the Eurozone, and the strength of the emerging economies in BRIC(A) and the East.

3.11     The majority of the UK’s trade is with the Eurozone. Major changes in the Eurozone are likely therefore to have significant effects on the UK economy, including international legal services. Changes in the broader economic and political relationship between the UK and Eurozone/EU are also likely to have an impact. A significant deterioration of transnational and regional relationships within the EU might contribute to that thickening of legal borders highlighted by one of the Law of the Future scenarios (see also Hiil, 2011).

3.12     Short-term signs are, however, that dependence on the Eurozone is being ameliorated in the international legal services market by the greater focus of law firms on emerging markets, which have been less affected by the recessionary pressures impacting mature Western economies. This trend is reflected in a number of surveys. In the Winmark (2012) survey, large law firms are expecting growth from international expansion, especially in the emerging economies; 30% of managing partners consider the greatest growth opportunity near-term to lie in overseas work, compared with only 17% in 2011. Similarly, Deloitte Consulting’s (2011) general business survey reported that 60% of corporate leaders saw developing their international capability as critical, particularly in emerging markets.

3.13     This is echoed from within the LETR research data:

… the UK now accounts for probably about forty per cent of the total firm so we have more lawyers outside and more partners outside the UK than we do inside which has always been a deliberate strategy and that’s broadly reflected in the revenues as well and we expect the UK to be a smaller part of a larger pie. Not necessarily because the UK’s shrinking dramatically but it’s just not growing at the same pace and we can grow the business elsewhere.


3.14     Turning to LSET specifically, it is clear that the perceived quality of English and Welsh lawyers, and the extent to which, as the BRIC(A) countries develop, they (and others) use the law of England and Wales for business will have important implications for legal training, and the jurisdiction’s ability to maintain its role as a significant net exporter of ‘legal talent’ (see Flood, 2011). As one respondent observed:

… looking at how our business is going, the chances are that of the fifty trainees that qualified at our firm in the last twelve months, fifty per cent of them will be making their careers somewhere else in the world, not in the UK …, they’re going to be somewhere in Asia which is most likely where they’ll end up. You know, Europe is a mature economy. There are no opportunities for growth, not really, for the international firms. We’re all looking much further afield. There are not enough qualified lawyers of the right standard out there. We are going to be sending our home grown people out.


3.15     LSET inevitably has an essential role to play in continuing that success, both by maintaining or enhancing its own attractiveness and accessibility to international students and practitioners, and, as has been widely pointed out in responses in the LETR research, by ensuring that existing quality and reputation are not diluted. The attractiveness of the commercially trained English or Welsh lawyer internationally has benefits also for the LSET system and its trainees. The continuing strength of the commercial sector is critical to the future of LSET since it dominates the market for trainee solicitors,[1] and is an important source of work for paralegals, too. Commercial chambers are also a significant, and highly competitive destination for pupillage (Bar Council/BSB, 2012:46).

3.16     A number of respondents have emphasised that ensuring that LSET remains competitive internationally will require preservation of demonstrably higher standards of competence:

So although absolutely there has to be a sort of floor of competence that we’re making sure that everyone hurdles, I actually think stretching to make sure that the top end of the profession is as stretched as it can be and actually manages to ride out the storms that will largely sweep out the bottom floors of the house. I think it’s actually preservation of that that will retain the UK as a, if you like, a market leader in legal services.


3.17     To some extent it is also recognised that this is a status and standing issue, influenced by markers and visible proxies for not just competence, but ‘professionalism’:

It’s a worldwide competition point I think here. I think … it would be pretty drastic if the general counsel of [a big UK company] was not fully qualified in one profession, or one branch of the profession because you can bet your bottom dollar that his German equivalent would be Herr Doktor Professor ….

Employed barrister

3.18     And, to preserve quality and standing, there are probably some things which the LETR should not do:

One of the issues is that a lot of the European countries require more in depth academic law so that I’ve had people commenting to me how bizarre it is that we have people who’ve got non law degrees who can qualify so quickly. So in terms of our standing in the world if we were to go reducing it down yet further, then we may actually have a sort of standing issue to consider.


3.19     A further factor emerges from the data, which can be described as ‘regulatory enablement’. In the LETR context, this considers the competitive position of the English and Welsh product internationally by facilitating recruitment, retention and training, and can be summarised in the need to ‘anticipate the impact of regulation on international practice’.[2]

3.20     The importance of the US legal education system as a likely competitor for the ‘international lawyer’ qualification needs to be acknowledged. There is a paradox, already touched on in Chapter 2: that a US legal education system that has been heavily criticised at home (see, eg, Sullivan et al, 2007, the ‘Carnegie report’) has become an important model internationally, even in common law jurisdictions such as Canada and Australia, in competition with the UK model of the undergraduate degree.


[1] As a reasonable proxy, 36.6% of training contracts in 2010-11 were registered to firms in the City of London (Fletcher, 2012:28).

[2] Specific points are made by a range of respondents, mostly solicitors, but the underlying concern was expressed pithily by a notary responding to the online survey:


Regulations for regulating the activities of over 100,000 solicitors, legal execs etc are not really relevant to the few hundred notaries whose activities are largely governed by the requirements of FOREIGN jurisdictions rather than those of the UK.