Looking outward, not inward
Regardless of what Brexit means, barristers must continue to affirm the importance of English and Welsh law and forge relationships with lawyers in other jurisdictions, write Louisa Nye and Duncan McCombe
After a summer of uncertainty, the legal profession, and the population as a whole, may have welcomed the first sitting of parliament and the prospect of some clarity as to the next steps that will be taken to put into effect the result of the EU referendum. However, with 'Brexit means Brexit' being the catchphrase most quoted, the future still appears to be decidedly uncertain.
When the result of the vote was announced I was at the AGM and Summer Conference of the European Young Bar Association (EYBA) in DÃ¼sseldorf. One might have considered that it was a bad day to be an English woman in Europe (regardless of your own views pro or anti-Brexit). However, it became a valuable opportunity to reaffirm the importance of English and Welsh law, and to recognise that no country is a legal island.
Regardless of the vote and regardless of whatever form Brexit takes, international law and international commerce and trade have become an increasingly important part of a truly global economy. The fact that English and Welsh law remains the predominant law in international contracts shows that a departure from the EU cannot possibly mean a departure from the international stage.
As young barristers, my vice-chairman, Duncan McCombe, and I immediately recognised two issues that will arise from Brexit. First, there is the opportunity that should now be available for the Bar to provide specialist advice to assist in the transition out of the EU. This can either be advice direct to the government, or to private individuals, companies, and organisations. Any departure from EU law will have knock-on effects not solely in constitutional law, but in environmental, intellectual property, health and safety, and contract law (including unfair contractual terms), to name but a few.
As far as the government is concerned, these developments will require careful drafting and consideration of the consequences of any amendment or departure from the current position. Equally, private parties will require advice about the approach they adopt to the numerous inevitable changes. Young barristers are ideally placed to carry out this sort of work, especially given our ability to work on an ad hoc and task-specific basis.
The second issue is the importance of ensuring that those of us developing and growing our practices can continue to do so. This ranges from seeking to ensure that barristers continue to have rights of audience in the relevant courts, to making sure that barristers continue to be able to maintain high levels of service to international clients, being able to travel to see those clients if necessary.
Domestically, too, there is much work to be done to ensure that England and Wales remains the premier destination for dispute resolution. That means ensuring that the jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments issues are satisfactorily resolved.
Given all the issues that Brexit raises '“ both identified and yet to emerge '“ it is vital to maintain links with other lawyers in other jurisdictions. The benefit of the Young Barristers' Committee being a member of the EYBA is that young barristers have an opportunity to discuss with other European lawyers how developments can take place and to see the other side of the coin. Of course the focus at the moment is on the UK, but the departure from the EU is not a unilateral act. There will be discussion and at least some level of compromise. An understanding of the perspective of those still within the EU is vital.
There is also the importance of networking. While 'networking' is possibly the verb I hate the most, it is also an important part of international practice. International and European lawyers are able to refer a client to a barrister or solicitor in another jurisdiction when they have confidence in that individual or firm.
Electronic working may have taken over our lives, but face-to-face conversations provide the greatest reassurance that a case, or an aspect of a case, is in good hands. Cross-border work will continue to be highly relevant as people and companies operate over the internet and geography no longer dictates. To provide the highest-quality legal services, teams of lawyers from different jurisdictions are increasingly likely to work together in order to provide the client with the best advice and outcome.
The tag line which has been adopted by the Bar Council, the Law Society, the City, and others is that London is open. This is something which the Young Barristers' Committee also stands by. London has been the leading centre for international dispute resolution for a considerable time. The universality of the English language and the predominance of English and Welsh law has brought people from across the world to London.
Never has it been more important for it to be clear that those wishing to resolve disputes are not only welcome in London but will also be given the best quality of advice and service. The legal profession has a unique opportunity to lead by example: to continue to welcome work and cases wherever they come from. The only way to maintain this is to keep looking outward rather than inward, regardless of what 'Brexit' means.
Louisa Nye is the chairman of the Young Barristers' Committee and a barrister at Landmark Chambers. Duncan McCombe is vice-chairman of the YBC and a barrister at Maitland Chambers