Work could be relocated overseas or lost to competing jurisdictions if international firms based in the UK are unable to recruit lawyers from outside Europe, the Law Society has warned. 

Responding to a call for evidence by the government on how to reduce skilled worker migration to the UK, the Society said that the UK must be able to recruit internationally if it is to retain its position as a global centre of excellence.

It said that recruiting skilled employees from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) is also key to ensuring that firms can gain a foothold in emerging global markets and to move swiftly if markets open up to international firms.

Jonathan Smithers (pictured), Law Society president, said: ‘The legal services sector makes a significant contribution to the UK economy, reaching £22.6bn in 2013, which equates to 1.6% of UK GDP. Much of the sector’s economic value is generated by international law firms operating in a competitive global marketplace.

‘These firms advise on complex deals spanning multiple jurisdictions and, to do this, they must be able to recruit and deploy teams of lawyers across the world. International employees bring local expertise that is by definition not available in the UK labour market.’

The Society warned that inhibiting the ability of firms to recruit outside Europe would do little to create or preserve jobs for UK nationals as work could be relocated by international firms to offices outside the UK.

It suggested that the government look to salary levels to identify highly skilled expert workers who might be exempt from curbs as these reflect market shortages for skills.

‘Lawyers who come to the UK from outside the EEA are highly qualified and well-paid individuals who make a significant contribution to the domestic economy through business generation, salary expenditure, tax revenue, and the creation of support roles. They bring skills that supplement and create opportunities for the resident labour market,’ the Society said.

The Law Society’s response was informed by evidence from Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, CMS Cameron McKenna, Herbert Smith Freehills and White & Case.