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British legal jobs 'could be affected by EU decision'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 30/01/13

If Britain and the European Union (EU) were a couple as opposed to psychogeographical entities based on the acceptance of global financial systems and centralised legislation, they would definitely be in some kind of intensive marriage counselling, following many years of a tempestuous relationship that would put a 19th century romantic novelist to shame.

The conflict between mutual dependency, deep cultural disdain and empty posturing flared up again following prime minister David Cameron's proposal of a renegotiation of the British position within the EU, in a speech that made headlines across Europe and generated a great deal of excitement among politicos across the UK.

One industry that will be following the twists and turns of this debate intently is the legal profession - English law firms launched a major invasion of the continent almost two decades ago, and many UK lawyer jobs are now closely linked to Europe and the bottom line of some firms deeply dependent on their continental work.

With this in mind, it would be expected that legal bodies are likely to oppose any move to extricate Britain from the EU, considering the impact a shake-up of the relationship could have on their business in Europe.

However, the experts contacted by the Global Legal Post maintained an air of lawyerly discretion and diffidence when discussing their feelings on Mr Cameron's gambit.

Maura McGowan, chairwoman of the Bar Council, said: "The prime minister recognises the important role which the United Kingdom plays in the EU and that is reflected by the important role of the English bar in European courts."

On the other hand, Jonathan Goldsmith, secretary general of the Council for the Bars and Law Society of the EU, suggested in his weekly blog for the Law Gazette that the prime minister was not offering the European organisation sufficient respect and indicating that he felt the EU's legal services sector is a vibrant and hard-working area.

He pointed to an EU-funded project to enable cross-border electronic transactions across European borders in the future and steps towards agreeing a new European patent regime as two measures that could benefit the UK legal sector.

"It should not need pointing out that the legal services group which will doubtless benefit most from these various measures are solicitors of England and Wales, who have already taken advantage of the single market to grow their presence in most, if not all, European countries," Mr Goldsmith concluded.

How the dispute over Britain's role in the EU will play out is uncertain - the legal sector will no doubt be watching closely.