Lawyers from England and Wales are on the up in every way. The US, however, retains its almost pathological resistance to ABSs.
Nothing will make you feel more English in America than stepping onto an escalator.
Everybody just stands still. Idly waiting to be taken up or down and wasting at least five seconds in the process.
At first, as the respectful foreigner, you wait behind and bide your time, maybe check your phone or stare at the ceiling. But give it a few days and you’ll be invoking the London Underground rule and insisting that blockers move to the side so you can walk past.
The rest of the world standing still while we barge our way through is a handy analogy for the legal services market in general. Everywhere you go at the International Bar Association conference, being from Blighty brings kudos and an inevitable stream of questions.
‘So you allow anyone to own a law firm?’
‘You let foreign lawyers come in and practise in your country?’
‘What is up with you picking Peter Crouch?’ (our Brazilian cousins are genuinely perplexed by our obsession with selecting tall footballers to play for England).
Whatever your view on the rights and wrongs of liberalisation, there’s no doubt England and Wales is a fascinating jurisdiction internationally for the way it’s willing to change and reform, and at the forefront of this interest is its embrace of non-lawyers. Australia might have been first for alternative business structures, but we are looked at as the game-changer.
The US retains its almost pathological resistance to ABSs, cloaking the argument around the ethics of selling out the legal profession but barely concealing the obvious self-preservation that frames its stance. But England and Wales is looked at as a chancer and a pioneer and the rest of the world wants to know if it should copy.
Lawyers from India, Brazil and China cannot believe how receptive we are to people coming into our country to set up offices. And many are envious - the vast majority I’ve spoken to have craved a more liberal system from their own legislators.
The whole week itself is, to be frank, one giant networking opportunity dressed up as a legal conference. The real excitement is not around the meetings and speeches, but the receptions afterwards. Cards are exchanged and business contacts established.
England and Wales has brought 800 of the 6,000 delegates and it shows - our lawyers are everywhere. It’s only through coming abroad do we realise what extraordinary reach our legal profession has. There’s not another industry in the world where we have stayed resolutely at the vanguard and dragged the rest along into the future. We should be proud of creating and maintaining this influence.
Right now, English and Welsh lawyers are the only ones walking up the escalator. But once the rest of the world realises we’re first in the queue for the coffee, they’ll realise they can’t stand still forever.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter