Usually outnumbered abroad by solicitors, UK barristers come into their own in Brussels. Fergus Randolph explains
From Moscow to Melbourne, from Paris to Paraguay, UK lawyers can be found. Mostly, these fearless legal expatriates are solicitors. The reason for this is clear. Although the commercial world no longer operates in a British empire in which its legal system rules supreme, non-contentious work is universal in nature and more and more clients require servicing on a global basis. This, essentially, is the area of the solicitor's expertise.
English barristers, on the other hand, whose skills reflect their specialisation in the contentious areas of litigation and administrative law, are less well-travelled.
As with every general rule exceptions exist, and two foreign locations in which barristers are thriving are Brussels and Luxembourg.
Members of the Bar have come here in three main guises. First, as traditional barristers working in the well-known chambers format. Second, as employees in the EU's institutions, particularly the legal services of the Council and Commission and in the Court of First Instance and the European Court of Justice. Third, as lawyers working in multinational legal firms.
The role of the barrister in the first category is very much based on the traditional role of barristers in the UK - that of referral trial lawyer. This is particularly well-suited to Brussels where there are a number of firms which may not have the time or the desire to litigate matters before the Commission and/or the Luxembourg courts. Barristers in this category pose no threat to such lawyers as there is no chance of the client transferring his goodwill to the barristers' chambers.
In addition to this traditional work, one particular area in which the Bar has created a niche is that of outside counsel to the Commission and Council legal services. The Bar is, of course, used to similar work in the UK from the Government and its agencies. This, taken with the fact that as sole practitioners there are no major conflict problems, reinforces the Bar's position in such areas.
The Bar is well represented in the various departments of the Community courts in Luxembourg in that both judges and the Advocate General there were formerly members of the Bar.
In the final category there are a large number of barristers who work in the field of Eu law in multinational firms. In the main, these firms tend to be of US origin and much of the work will concern US clients with particular issues arising out of the operation of Community law.
The English Bar's profile in Brussels may not be as high as that of its solicitor colleagues, but there is no doubt that barristers have, and will continue to have, an important role to play here.