Law Soc welcomes EU-US free tade area with trepidation

European Union plans to start talks on creating a free trade area between the US and the EU have been cautiously welcomed by the Law Society as a way to break the deadlock with the US over rights of establishment of EU solicitors in the US.

Earlier this month, the European Commission gave the go ahead to the project nicknamed the “New Transatlantic Marketplace” which has been put forward by EU commissioners Sir Leon Brittan, Martin Bangemann and Mario Monti.

Formal negotiations with the US could begin at the EU-US summit in May and liberalisation of professional services is expected to be on the agenda.

Jonathan Goldsmith, the Law Society's head of international, said: “If professional services are included, we would be pleased.”

The Law Society has made little headway in resolving two issues with US lawyers: the rights of establishment of solicitors in the US; and the requalification of solicitors as US attorneys.

On both issues, it is seeking a system which mirrors the UK's more liberal regime.

However, Goldsmith said that it has been “difficult to make progress”.

The US national body, the American Bar Association, has consistently argued that it is not a regulatory body and as such has no power to negotiate on such issues.

State regulations meanwhile vary widely, with many states operating highly restrictive regimes for foreign lawyers.

The Law Society has spoken to the Court of Appeal in New York, which makes professional rules for lawyers in the state of New York, and is said to be reviewing its rules.