Katie Hay, head of international at the Law Society, discusses our our work towards becoming a truly international world-class professional body and urges Scottish solicitors working internationally to get involved.

“No globalisation without representation”, itself a corruption of a slogan used by American colonists who opposed taxation by a distant parliament to which they had not elected any members, was taken up in the late 20th century by the anti-globalisation movement.  Rather than oppose globalisation itself, activists were protesting against the lack of democracy in global governance and its impact on poorer and more vulnerable people and economies.

One of the earliest proponents of globalisation, or at least global governance in trade, was our very own Adam Smith, who, in his seminal text A Wealth of Nations (1776), argues against barriers to free trade and competition, particularly those imposed by governments.  It is reassuring then, that as economies have become more global and the consequent demand for global cross-border legal services has grown significantly, many governments are pursuing trade agendas designed to break down unnecessary or disproportionate barriers to cross-border trade, including in relation to the legal profession.

In the context of Brexit, there has been much in the press about international trade agreements and while the UK government will have primary responsibility for negotiating new deals on behalf of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Government stated in its post-referendum paper, Scotland’s Place in Europe that it would need to take part in trade negotiations that impact on devolved competences, have a voice in international forums and secure agreements with other countries.

Justice is, of course, one such devolved competency and the Law Society of Scotland has long been working with the Scottish Government through its development arm Scottish Development International (SDI) to promote Scottish legal services and identify opportunities within other sectors.  This is set to continue with the launch of Scottish Legal International, an initiative of the bigger commercial firms in Scotland in collaboration with SDI and the Society.  More will be said about this in the coming weeks but the hope is that once it is established it will be available as a source of support to any firms with international aspirations. The core principle of the initiative is one that Adam Smith himself would hopefully endorse, namely that more can be achieved through putting aside individual competitive concerns at home for the greater good of the sector internationally.

This is just one strand of our international work.  As my colleague, Fraser Hudghton wrote in his recent blog about the Society’s new membership of In-House Counsel Worldwide (ICW), at the heart of our strategy is the ambition to drive forward our standing as a truly international, world-class professional body.

Membership of ICW provides another opportunity for us not just to promote the wealth of talent in our growing in-house sector but to work with global partners to promote and sustain the work of in-house counsel in Scotland, elsewhere in the UK, and across the world.  This is on top of the opportunities we already enjoy to learn from and share best practice with the American and Canadian Bar Associations, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe and the International Bar Association (among others).

The globalisation of the legal market coupled with our strategic commitment to becoming a world class organisation has given rise to the Society’s recent call for our first ever international council member to represent the needs and views of those of our members with international careers.  The deadline for applications was end-August and I urge all of our members outside the UK, whether practising or non-practising, to vote for the candidate who you think will best fulfil this role and give your constituency a voice in our governing body.

Lack of space prevents me from detailing more of the international opportunities and challenges that arise for the Society and for the profession every day but for the purpose of concluding, I’d like to give a shout-out to colleagues in our Brussels Office, with whom I work closely.  While we are doing a lot of work here examining the impact of leaving the EU (all of which is detailed on our website), they have the challenging task of representing UK interests in the heart of Brussels during the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

The Office has been representing and promoting the profession in Brussels as well as contributing to the EU legislative process since 1990.  However, since the referendum last year, they have redoubled their efforts to put forward our interests to EU stakeholders.  If you visit their website (www.lawsocieties.eu) you will be able to access the reports they have published, the viewpoint articles they have commissioned from lawyers, MEPs and academics and read about the events they have organised.  The Office will also have their usual stand at our annual conference so if you have any questions, comments or concerns about Brexit, please stop by for a chat. 

Through the various strands of my international engagement, I want to create a network of organisations, resources and people who can advise our members, whether they are keen to expand their business internationally, are experiencing cross-border difficulties or are wondering what impact Brexit will have on their business.  Through working with other law societies, linking up our international members or leveraging the resources of government and trade organisations, my aim is to ensure that if the profession is going to embrace globalisation, it is not without proper representation.

If you’d like to find out more about our international work, email katiehay@lawscot.org.uk.

Our international work

Working on behalf of the Scottish legal profession across the globe.