Firms fly the flag

IN A week that a senior German government minister claimed Britain was obsessed with World War II, UK firms could be forgiven for a little Union Jack sabre rattling.

A recent wave of expansion by City firms into Europe was followed up by a government report showing that exports of UK legal services rose by 17 per cent to u893m in 1997.

Foreign expansion is a testament to the tenacity of UK firms which have long been hampered on the Continent by bureaucratic red tape and protectionist government and local bar policies.

A few British firms which gambled on quick profits abroad have fallen by the wayside, but those who had a sensible long-term strategy are beginning to reap the rewards.

Naturally this success will provoke a backlash.

At an American Bar Association meeting on legal globalisation, a leading member of the Japanese Bar raged against British legal imperialism, suggesting the nation was out to build a new empire. A British delegate quietly pointed out this was slightly ironic coming from a nation that occupied a fair slice of the Pacific 50 years ago, but then there we war-obsessed Tommies go again.

The reality is that UK firms are succeeding abroad because, as leading German lawyer Peter Nagele points out, foreign legal services often do not meet client needs.

Unhappy foreign lawyers have a simple choice – provide a better service, become part of an international network or get out of the game.