It is that time of the year when newspapers and magazines run retrospectives on the year that has passed – in 2009, even on the decade that has passed – and give prophecies for the future.It has not been a good year overall for lawyers. Even though the recession has affected the legal profession in different ways around Europe, including in the UK, nevertheless a profession such as ours, which depends on the property market and which has specialists in business and finance, has suffered badly. Regardless of the economic outlook, the letters pages of the Gazette bear witness to the low morale of solicitors faced with current change and uncertainty.
Let us not dwell on the past then, but look to the future. At European level, there will be a number of important developments in 2010. Here are three of them.
There will be an oral hearing at last in the Akzo Nobel case on 9 February 2010, and so presumably a decision in 2010. The case will decide whether the existing European case law, which does not grant legal professional privilege to in-house counsel, should be overturned. The Law Society has expressed a strong interest in the outcome: it has twice applied to join the case at its appeal stage, and twice been turned down. There is also strong interest abroad in the outcome. The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) is a party and will be represented at the oral hearing.
The delayed European e-Justice portal, due to have been launched this month, will now be launched in the middle of 2010 (precise date not yet known). The e-Justice initiative will be the embryo for many future initiatives, such as increased video-conferencing in cross-border cases; cross-border access for legal professionals to registries such as company, insolvency or land registries; and the development of directories to allow citizens - and lawyers, too - to find lawyers and notaries in other EU member states. There will also be a huge amount of information on the law of other member states on the portal: for instance, the CCBE is now working on a European Commission funded project on fact-sheets on the rights of criminal defendants in all member states, which, although aimed at the citizen, will also allow lawyers to have access to basic information on criminal procedures in EU states in all official languages.
There is one topic which I regret that I have not covered in my blog this year, which was big last year and will be big in 2010: outsourcing of legal services. This week, the Bombay High Court finally
The end of the year is a time for wishes. The American Bar Association is currently undertaking work on Ethics 20/20, looking at developments ‘that will allow lawyers to better serve their clients, the courts and the public now and well into the future’. Their brief covers developments both in the US, for instance in the way that IT impacts on the law, and around the world, including our own alternative business structures. They are essentially trying to work out where we will be in 10 years’ time. There are individuals in the UK, like Professor Richard Susskind, who attempt to gaze into the future, so as to guide us in the present, but there should be more of an institutional effort. So, my wish for 2010 is that the Law Society sets up the equivalent of a 20/20 committee.
Seasons’ greetings to all of you, and I ask forgiveness from those with grievances from items I have written about this year.
Jonathan Goldsmith is the secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents more than 700,000 European lawyers through its member bars and law societies