India could be worth £350m a year to UK lawyers if the Indian government can be persuaded to open up access to its legal services market, the Lord Chancellor has told City law firms.
Speaking in London yesterday evening at the launch of a renewed push to promote the UK legal services sector, Chris Grayling said the government was doing all it could to market the industry abroad and to press foreign governments to allow UK firms to compete.
His keynote speech coincided with the publication of a joint Ministry of Justice and UK Trade & Investment document UK legal services on the international stage: Underpinning growth and stability. Described as an “action plan” and a “blueprint”, the document is a follow up to the May 2011 Plan for Growth initiative.
As well as seeking to boost legal exports – which in 2011 comprised £4bn of the total £20.9bn value of the legal sector to the UK economy – the government is committed to promoting the UK as a venue for foreign legal activity, Mr Grayling said, pointing out that nine out of 10 commercial arbitration cases handled by London firms now involve an international party.
“People all over the world know that for dispute resolution you come to… Britain because it’s cheaper – it cost 15% less here than the rest of Europe; you come to Britain because it’s quicker – cases are concluded in months not years; and you come to Britain because a judgment of a British court comes with a cast-iron guarantee of impartiality, integrity, and enforceability.”
Mr Grayling said expansion into emerging markets was a key to the UK legal sector’s success in a world were “the old certainties… are gone”. UK lawyers were moving “step by step” into China, Russia, India and Brazil, he said. “And I know just how much of a challenge that can present”.
UK government ministers have been lobbying their counterparts “about opening up their markets to UK legal firms… we need to carry on breaking down barriers, smashing bureaucracies and convincing those countries to open their markets that could be so valuable to us”, he said.
Mr Grayling’s predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, visited India in 2011 with Law Society and Bar Council officials. When there he inaugurated a legal cooperation conference with his Indian opposite number.
Last night’s event was organised by TheCityUK, a trade promotion body and held at Allen & Overy. Introducing the keynote speech, A&O’s worldwide senior partner, David Morley, said the UK legal sector “punches above its weight”.
He pointed out that four of the top eight largest law firms in the world, measured by revenue, originated in the UK, including his own firm. Meanwhile, the US legal market by itself is bigger than the legal market for the whole of the rest of the world put together. “It is really quite remarkable that UK law firms occupy such a strong position globally,” he said.
In a joint statement with the Bar, the Law Society welcomed the government’s commitment to champion the legal sector, Deputy vice-president Andrew Caplen said: “For the global economy to recover from the worst crisis in many years, trade and investment are central to re-generating strong, sustainable and balanced growth in the UK and overseas. This cannot be done without solicitors.” Bar Council chairman Maura McGowan QC also praised “the government’s interest in exporting English law”.