Time for the US to open its doors

This month, New York lawyers will have the opportunity to comment on the issue of admitting foreign lawyers to their state. A consultation document on admissions to the New York Bar is in circulation, and responses are due shortly.

The Law Society of England and Wales is of the opinion that it has scored a coup by being asked to contribute to the debate. It seems unlikely, however, that there will be any major move on the thorny subject of admitting foreign lawyers in the near future, which is galling for UK lawyers.

After all, UK lawyers have opened their doors to US lawyers for some years now, and US firms have shown every intention of taking up the opportunity of practising here, whether by transatlantic alliance or by physically moving here lock, stock and barrel, and dangling six-figure salaries to attract local rainmakers.

The argument from the American Bar Association (ABA) has always been that it is a voluntary organisation, and, as such, does not have the power to impose rules on local Bar associations.

Indeed, most of the US states are afraid of admitting their fellow lawyers from other US states, never mind foreigners.

New York is particularly attractive to lawyers from across the US and the rest of the world, so its desire to keep barriers up is understandable. However, the ABA has never even demonstrated that the issue was particularly high on its agenda.

The Lord Chancellor's Department has said that the issue cannot be argued on the basis of reciprocity, but only on the lines of an open liberal marketplace.

With the wheels of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) slowly turning, the US will eventually have to move in its direction. Delaying tactics may work in the short term, but the US has shown little will to change its ways. The WTO should change that.