Foreign affairs

Foreign lawyers in the UK will find their feet and some useful contacts with the aid of networks. Nicole Maley reports

Networks are the current buzz word. From the formal business generating UK groupings to the looser pan-global associations, lawyers like to “network”.

But when you are a foreign lawyer working in a new country the lines of communication can often appear to collapse.

However, the wide range of bilateral associations now in existence in the UK make the transition from home to a faraway land more simple.

Through organisations such as the British-Nordic Lawyers Association and the Central Asia & Transcaucasia Law Association lawyers working abroad can mix with those practising foreign law in their own jurisdiction.

Conferences, newsletters and lectures can keep them abreast of recent developments, while dinners, cocktail parties and informal gatherings provide those all-important social contacts.

The Law Society's international promotion officer Emma Donaldson, who last year organised the society's first 'Special event for the international legal community', says the groups not only increase contact among the international law sector but also help to “break down any feelings of isolation”.

“It's helpful both to the lawyers over here who are interested in a particular country and to the contacts they make within the country that they are linked with, to have some sort of formal grouping rather than each individual working on their own,” says Donaldson.

“If you have a grouping there is much greater scope for the projects that can be run – for example seminars, missions, exchange programmes, events and visits – they are organised on a wider basis rather than firm to firm.”

Donaldson says last year's event, planned to establish better contacts with UK-based foreign lawyers, attracted 250 delegates. Another event is planned for June.

“The aim of the special event was not only for foreign lawyers to meet one another, it was for foreign lawyers to meet solicitors in the UK and make contact with the Law Society, and for them to get a feel for the way the profession works here,” says Donaldson.

“We felt that it was to the benefit both of the solicitors' profession and the foreign lawyers based here to establish a more open line of contact.”

Secretary of the Society of English and American Lawyers, Hans Hartwig, says the group facilitates a “meeting point” for North American firms and lawyers dealing with the US.

“There are three main benefits offered by the society,” says Hartwig. “It enables you to have access to resources or at least to know someone you can contact for help almost immediately, and it enables young lawyers to meet people with whom they can stay in contact in another country.

“The third thing is that the judges of the two countries through talking to each other have surprised themselves by discovering that they are, on the whole, talking the same language and moving to the same result and, where they are not, it makes them think again about their approach to matters.”

Solicitors European Group chair Garth Lindrup says the group, which has 3,000 members and operates regional branches throughout the country, “provides an opportunity for lawyers up and down the country to get to know a little more about EC law and other jurisdictions”.

“The group started 28 years ago, primarily to meet the needs of a relatively small group of people in London at the time who were interested in the European dimension of the law,” says Lindrup.

“Those people practising in the area of EC law get the opportunity to attend evening meetings and our annual dinner and conference, and to receive our quarterly magazine.

“There are also opportunities through the conference and other things we organise to maintain contact with lawyers in other jurisdictions in Europe in the widest sense.”

President of the Franco-British Lawyers Society, Bill Blackburn, says the organisation, which has a 50/50 membership of French and UK lawyers, was set up because France is the “most important jurisdiction in Europe”, and physically closest to the UK.

“Despite this, France is the jurisdiction about which the British know the least,” says Blackburn.

“We have much to learn from the French and they have much to learn from us. This society provides a network of like-minded people.”