English briefs join jet set as chambers go global
10 May 2010 | By Corinne McPartland
“Having a permanent base abroad with a permanent barrister situated there is really the key to success internationally. If you don’t have that then you don’t have any credibility,” states Nicholas Luckman, senior practice manager at XXIV Old Buildings.
XXIV Old Buildings has had an outpost in Geneva for more than nine years and Luckman believes its success is down to the fact that it has a fully functional office with a permanent barrister based in the country.
“Lots of sets are opening what they call international offices, but really they’re small spaces that accommodate visiting barristers when they have work on in that particular country. It’s effectively for them to put a plaque on the door and say they have international bases,” he insists.
Luckman claims that the current trend for chambers to set up part-time international offices in common law countries means they may be perceived as competing for work locally, but that they are doing it half-heartedly.
“To open a chambers abroad,” he says, “you have to be adding value and you must be offering a service that the jurisdiction can’t currently get.”
Like it or not, many sets, such as Outer Temple Chambers and Brick Court Chambers, have started to open more of what Luckman calls “part-time” offices abroad.
But Outer Temple director Christine Kings says it is not so much about competing for instructions, but more about taking greater advantage of opportunities to sell the services of the English bar overseas.
Outer Temple has two offices abroad, one in Abu Dhabi and another in New York, both of which are occupied with both casework and marketing opportunities.
“There appear to be many more international disputes in the Middle East arising from the consequences of the recession,” explains Kings. “In the US we’re seeing an increase in the amount of expert witness work on UK law in US litigation and arbitrations, as well as our barristers being used to advise US law firms or corporate and individual clients directly.”
The news comes after a group of barristers from Outer Temple announced earlier this year that they would be launching a standalone company targeted at capturing international work (The Lawyer, 22 February).
Elsewhere, Brick Court currently has a base in Brussels, but again it is only used on a part-time basis.
The set’s joint senior clerk Ian Moyler insists that opening permanent offices abroad is often costly and quite commonly the benefit only flows to the QCs and arbitrators in a chambers, rather than to the set as a whole.
But one set benefiting from having overseas offices is 20 Essex Street, which has taken space in Singapore’s flagship arbitration centre Maxwell Chambers.
The purpose-built arbitration centre, which is funded by the Singapore government, houses hearing facilities as well as international arbitration institutions, including the Singapore International Arbitration Centre.
20 Essex Street senior clerk Brian Lee claims the move is down to the fact that the Singapore Ministry of Law hopes to make Singapore the arbitration centre of choice for the Asian region.
“The expansion of international markets or international arbitrations has resulted in more overseas law firms seeking expertise of both barristers for advocacy and an increase in overseas work for full-time arbitrators,” he says. “We have our office permanently manned in Singapore, as inevitably more arbitration work will flow to Singapore from London, New York and Paris.”
And it seems that the overseas expansions are being watched closely by other sets, particularly because the banking crisis has caused distress to investment funds in offshore and foreign jurisdictions, many of which have English law as a model or require some form of English law dispute determination.
One Essex Court senior clerk Darren Burrows notes that, while many chambers have been promoting themselves internationally for some years now, more sets are now embracing foreign outposts.
“There’s a market there for those willing to put in the time and effort,” he says, “so barristers need to be prepared to travel and invest their own time in a coordinated marketing effort.”