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London - the legal capital of the world?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 22/07/13

If those incredibly smug Tube adverts that I saw in London last year are to be believed, the English capital is literally the best place in the world, a combination of Louis XV's Versailles, Fitzgerald's New York and Hemingway's Paris.

Furthermore, one of the ways you 'know you're a Londoner' (ugh) is that you have the pre-eminent legal market in the world, one that is respected by businesses across the globe and often considered an arbiter of transnational disputes.

I mean, it probably doesn't come up that often in polite dinner-table conversation, but it's still an important factor in London's status as a cultural and business hub.

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay, in-house head of legal at the multi-billion-pound international Hinduja Group, recently confirmed the capital's prestige at the Law Society's International Marketplace Conference.

"There is a global respect for English law and London lawyers are the most experienced in the world," he declared.

However, other speakers were less effusive, pointing out that London will need to work hard to retain its metaphorical crown in the face of challenges from emerging markets such as those seen in Asia.

One argument being made is that London lawyers are too expensive compared to some of their international counterparts, with Mr Mukhopadhyay arguing that more use of fixed fees could improve the situation.

National firm Eversheds partner Howard Barrie also sounded a note of caution, querying whether or not "the sun is about to set on the English legal empire", in appropriately neo-colonial language.

He pointed out that "host countries" are growing in strength and competence when it comes to indigenous law services, a process that has been observed in Asian markers over the last decade or so.

Speakers concluded that London's role as a global legal destination is not set in stone, but instead something that needs to be worked at and helped by government decisions and strong business sense.

With changes such as alternative business structures afoot, it is clear the legal industry needs to do some thinking if it is to retain its position in the global market.