The UK is a non-protectionist island in a sea of closed jurisdictions.
UK-origin law firms feature prominently among what is termed ‘the global elite’, and together with the Law Society’s representatives took arguments against protectionism to the IBA’s annual conference in Boston.
The UK has been an exemplar in opening its home market, balancing the needs of a high level of regulatory reassurance with low-ish barriers to entry. Witness both the licensing of ABSs and the ever-increasing number of foreign firms established in London.
But as the Gazette reports this week, from India to the US, and Namibia to China (see features), other jurisdictions have been slow to reciprocate, even where governments and bar associations have a theoretical commitment in this area.
The effect of such dissonance between the UK and ‘other’ is not straightforward. As the Gazette reported last week, imports of legal services are rising faster than exports. This in part reflects our position as a non-protectionist island in a sea of closed jurisdictions.
But even if UK-origin firms compete with one hand tied behind their backs, they still have an identifiable first-mover advantage – seen in the representation among the global elite. These firms’ leaders know that the global economy could deliver much more for them.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of liberalisation, legal services remain in many places an odd exception in the process of globalisation.