A Bar without borders

Don’t think international work is relevant to your practice? Read on: barristers are increasingly doing international work at all levels of seniority, from most practice areas, and across the regions

A large proportion of my time as Chairman, and of the Bar Council’s staff, is spent, as it should be, promoting the Bar’s interests at home. 

But it would be wrong to conclude that we do not promote the Bar’s international interests overseas, or to conclude that our work in this area is not valuable. International work is an increasingly significant part of the Bar’s income. What is interesting, but not surprising, is that more barristers are doing ‘international’ work every year, and consistent with that, the income earned by the Bar from international work grows every year. Don’t stop reading this because international work is not, or could not be, relevant to you. I know barristers of all levels of seniority, from most practice areas, and across the regions in England and Wales who have international work.

According to the latest Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund (BMIF) figures, in 2014 1,489 self-employed barristers received instructions from clients based overseas. This represents an increase of some 163 barristers from the previous year and amounts to about 11% of the profession. In the same period the international earnings of the Bar grew by 9%, from £232m to £253m. Perhaps most interestingly, 30% of the overall increase in the self-employed Bar’s earnings in 2014 came from international work. These figures understate the position – for example, they do not include the employed Bar as they are based on BMIF figures, and they do not capture work on overseas matters for clients based in the UK. These figures reflect a trend. Our earnings from international work has been growing steadily for more than 10 years. The increased interest in international work led to the International Committee (IC) producing an information pack of useful information which barristers should be aware of if they are engaged in international work. You can find it here.

This rise is due in part to the ever increasing globalisation, in large part to the work of chambers, specialist Bar associations (SBAs), Circuits and barristers and in part, to the proactive work of the Bar Council in promoting our members internationally. The Bar Council’s IC, chaired by Amanda Pinto QC, and supported by Christian Wisskirchen and Jessica Crofts-Lawrence, has pursued a dual track of promoting ‘trade’ and ‘values’. This aims to increase international work coming to the Bar while supporting other legal professions to develop the rule of law in their own jurisdictions.

Promoting trade

Through overseas missions, working with incoming delegations and through exchange programmes we have persuaded many overseas law firms and in-house counsel to instruct the Bar directly and we have provided opportunities for barristers to increase their knowledge of overseas jurisdictions, clients and cultures.

As the apex body of the Bar, the Bar Council through its IC is particularly well placed to deal with those jurisdictions where there is less familiarity with the Bar, but a potential for work for the Bar. The IC consults closely with SBAs and Circuits in deciding where to focus its efforts. An excellent example is South Korea. I will be leading a delegation of barristers to Seoul in April. Please consider joining us – you can find an application pack for this mission, which will also take in Shanghai, on the website.

When South Korea opened its legal market in 2011, Korean law firms were worried about the threat from large English and US competitors. The Bar Council proactively arranged a series of market visits, allowing barristers and Korean lawyers to meet, explaining to local firms how they could work with the Bar and explaining the advantages of doing so. We also set up a young lawyers/barristers exchange scheme, now in its fifth year, which has been supported by chambers and SBAs, the Korean Bar Association and Korean lawyers. We have been pursuing similar strategies in Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil.

We are also involved in more long-term lobbying. Recent examples include our work helping to develop a proposal by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) for an EU legal services offer in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated with the US. The CCBE has just agreed the terms which will now be submitted to the EU negotiators. This will, we hope, ultimately make the US legal market more accessible to the Bar. Another example is the campaigning work we have carried out to avoid a European contract law.

Supporting values

There are two events to flag here. We will be celebrating 10 years of the Bar Council’s International Rule of Law Lecture in 2016. Judge Yazmin Barrios of Guatemala, who presided over the trial of the former dictator, Rios Montt, will be giving this year’s lecture on 27 April, at 6pm in Gray’s Inn Hall. She put her life at risk and endured great personal hardship as a result of her brave adherence to the rule of law. Her lecture is open to all, so do please come.

We also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the British Council last year to co-operate on international training and consultancy work for overseas lawyers. We anticipate this leading to more project work with lawyers in Russia, Egypt and China amongst others.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Bar Council’s international activities, please do sign up to our two-weekly update email by contacting: CLiang@barcouncil.org.uk.

Contributor Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC Chairman of the Bar

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