International reach

Christian Wisskirchen outlines the international work of the Bar Council

There are a number of good reasons why the Bar Council has proactively developed its international work in recent years, beyond the fact that many members of the Bar have for a long time had international practices. It is actually difficult to know precisely how many barristers have international clients. The only hard figure currently available comes from the Bar Mutual Indemnity Insurance Fund which counts at 1,221 the numbers of barristers registering international earnings, which for their purposes only relates to instructions where the client is based abroad – hence probably not capturing most international work. This figure has risen considerably in recent years and we are confident it will continue to do so.

The reasons why we have an International Committee (currently chaired by Amanda Pinto QC) and an International Team are threefold: a) the considerable opportunities for the Bar to attract more international instructions; b) the demand for the Bar to share its expertise on a pro bono basis with legal professionals in other, mostly developing, jurisdictions; and c) the need for the Bar Council to keep abreast of international regulatory and professional developments. The Committee and the staff have developed three-year strategies to ensure the Bar is active in these areas.

International business development

In this respect we promote England and Wales as the jurisdiction of choice for international dispute resolution and advisory work. We also promote barristers as a resource of outstanding legal advisory and advocacy expertise, with the aim to grow over time the number and range of international clients of the Bar from an increasing range of overseas markets. Here are some examples:

  • This year’s outgoing trade missions to the priority markets of Germany, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Warsaw and Moscow are open to members of the Bar.
  • We are operating lawyer exchange schemes with four jurisdictions: China, Korea, Russia and Brazil. These schemes are very popular with chambers and provide strong contacts in key jurisdictions.
  • We host incoming missions of foreign lawyers and this year have so far welcomed delegations from Russia and California.

Earlier in the year we played a significant part in the Global Law Summit, which attracted over 2,000 participants from around the world and where we featured four well attended sessions, highlighting the talent to be found at the Bar. Every year we host around 70 international Bar leaders attending the Opening of the Legal Year ceremonies, demonstrating the strength of our jurisdiction through seminars and roundtables, as well the impressive ceremony at Westminster Abbey. We also help our members by organising networking events at key international conferences, by providing a grant scheme for young barristers to attend CPD events abroad (funded by the Bar Council Scholarship Trust and a number of SBAs and Circuits), by publishing promotional publications and training UK Commercial Officers about the Bar’s international legal services, to name just the more prominent activities.

International rule of law

Under this heading we are increasing our support for the efforts of overseas professions to strengthen the rule of law in their respective jurisdictions. We provide advice and support on professional standards matters, such as assisting in the development of codes of conduct and taking part in training projects e.g. in the areas of jury trials, anti-corruption laws or vulnerable witnesses. We also provide advocacy support for legal professions and judiciaries which are subject to improper interference or even persecution from governments, by way of statements, letters and visits.

International liaison

In the globalised legal market there is an increasing number of policy issues being debated in international fora, such as the European Council of Bars and Law Societies (CCBE) or the International Bar Association (IBA), which have a very real influence on the way law is practised internationally and where, therefore, our voice needs to be heard. Currently the lawyers’ practice regime in the EU is being reviewed which means we need to influence the policy positions of the CCBE. Another important field of discussion in that organisation is e-justice, where we need to ensure that barristers’ online work is both safe and prosperous. At the global level the IBA debates the core values of the profession and key policy issues such as whether there should be a right for lawyers to go on strike or how to deal with perceived conflicts in international arbitration. We are also a member of the International Criminal Bar which is now working to establish a Bar with regulatory powers in relation to those practising before the International Criminal Court.

Bar input

All in all this amounts to a full agenda for the 29 barristers of the International Committee and the two members of policy staff who devise, direct and implement the above work programme. As is true in relation to other Bar Council committees, we could not deliver half the activities described above without the top talent from the membership donating its expertise pro bono; which I would estimate conservatively to amount to the equivalent of roughly two full-time staff members. If you are interested in developing your international practice and participating in our events, or joining the Committee, the Policy Team will be pleased to talk you about the possibilities. Email me at cwisskirchen@barcouncil.org.uk.

Contributor Christian Wisskirchen

Head of Policy, International, Bar Council

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Christian Wisskirchen

Christian is Head of Policy: International, Bar Council, where he is responsible for developing and implementing strategies that promote the international interests of the Bar.