Bahamas paves the way for foreigners

The Bahamas is considering opening itself up to foreign lawyers so they can assist the island on major asset transactions and enable it to compete with other offshore jurisdictions

The idea has been mooted by lawyers, including the island's internationally best known firm Lennox Paton, which placed the idea alongside some 16 other law-related reform proposals before the island's new government.

The plan is to engage international lawyers in big ticket work relating to projects, asset and trade financing and securitisation.

Charles Crowe, managing partner of Lennox Paton's London office, said: “We've allowed a developmental gap to open between us and our near neighbours.”

The Bahamian legal profession was opened up to foreign lawyers in the early 1970s, although this attracted only a handful of outsiders. This rule was then withdrawn and now only Bahamian nationals can practise there, although QCs and lawyers are occasionally instructed by Bahamian lawyers on an ad hoc basis.

Crowe said caution is required. “We need to make a balance between bringing in experienced and networked lawyers with protecting the domestic legal market,” he said. This means placing restrictions, at least in the short term, on equity levels that foreigners will be able to have and assurances that international firms will not buy up the market.