By Scottish standards, the legal profession in the United States is vast – around 800,000 lawyers, working in 50 states, represented by the same number of bar associations. Not surprisingly, the scale of the American Bar Association annual conference is also vast, as I discovered last week on my first business trip back to the US after joining the Society at the beginning of the year.
The ABA – which represents half the country’s lawyers, sets standards for legal education and works to improve the law – describes itself as the “largest voluntary professional body in the world”. The annual conference attracts 2,000 delegates and is spread across 10 hotels and venues.
Needless to say, the opportunities for Scottish solicitors in such a huge marketplace are also considerable, something I was reminded of regularly during my working week.
For instance, a meeting with Bill Campbell, from the DLA Piper Chicago office, and Gus Noble, President and CEO of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, focused on the possibility of building a business development link with the profession in Scotland, with a suggestion that firms could take part in a trade mission during next year’s Scotland Week celebrations.
And the group of New York-based Scots and American lawyers who form the voluntary and networking group, Scots Bar NY, offered some ideas about how they might be able to help us and our Scottish law graduates and solicitors explore international internship and career options, even in this tricky job market.
There are other lessons to learn from our American colleagues. A particularly interesting session at the ABA conference drew out a discussion on the outsourcing of basic legal processing to lower cost countries. In a country where the recession has focused attention on “American jobs for American people”, this was a hotly debated topic. Outsourcing in this way has yet to prove either particularly harmful or significantly beneficial to the Scottish market, but it is certainly something I believe we should consider. It may impact on us whether we are in favour or not.
Likewise, a debate about jurisdiction-hopping between different states of the US, with their varying regulatory regimes, struck a chord as we move towards further reforms of our own.
No decisions have been made on how to take these suggestions and offers of help forward – and so I invite the views of members – but it was certainly rewarding to meet people in both Chicago and New York who bear the Society and the Scottish legal profession so much goodwill.Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland