The International Bar Association (IBA) has been taken by surprise by the plans of three member organisations the American Bar Association (ABA), the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations to set up their own forum on liberalisation of legal services.
Lawyers groups worldwide suspect that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) wants to apply standard criteria for liberalisation to all professions.
Although the IBA has been looking at the issue for two years and has produced draft guidelines on rights of establishment of foreign lawyers, it has failed to rally its broad membership, comprising 173 Bar associations, behind it.
The forum was suggested by the Japanese after a February OECD liberalisation conference. It was taken up by the Europeans and pushed hard by the Americans. The Americans and the Japanese are poles apart on the liberalisation issue, as are the European.
Donald Rivkin, chairman of the ABAs transnational practice committee and a senior IBA official, said: I have no criticism of the IBA, but it has members from countries all over the world, not all of whom have interests common to Bars of the OECD.
IBA vice-president Klaus BUhlhoff said: If they feel that by arranging this as a small group they can represent their interests better on a common issue, they should do it.