Europe features highly in the work of the Law Society, both in lobbying on EU legislation and in improving the practice rights of solicitors and their firms in other countries.
The Law Society set up an office in Brussels more than 10 years ago. It was the first EU bar or law society to establish such an office and it has been very successful. Other law societies in the UK have joined the office as partners and it also produces reports for the Dutch bar.
Solicitors' firms throughout the UK, other EU bars and opinion formers are all regularly updated on European issues by Brussels Agenda – a monthly newsletter produced by the office. Brussels Agenda is highly regarded as the one publication which brings together legal professional developments taking place in the EU.
Through the office, the Law Society has lobbied successfully on a range of EU legislation affecting the profession. For instance, at the moment, it is very active on the proposed Money Laundering Directive, which could have grave consequences for the reporting obligations of solicitors.
Visits for groups of solicitors are arranged by the office on a regular basis every year. Staff in the Brussels office have also facilitated the granting of millions of euros in international project funding to the Law Society for the development of its work abroad in promoting English solicitors and English law. The European Commission gives the Law Society about £500,000 per year for large-scale projects to train lawyers in the Middle East and Nigeria.
In terms of solicitors practising in Europe, we lobbied long and hard for the implementation of the Establishment Directive, which permits free movement of lawyers within the EU. We undertake work to assist lawyers in a variety of European countries. Only this year, we were successful in getting criminal charges dropped against a dozen shipping law firms in Piraeus, Greece.
We are conducting campaigns to liberalise the legal services regimes in Romania, Slovakia and Russia. We use the power of the European Commission in our negotiations with the legal authorities in these countries, and have developed excellent contacts with the relevant commission officials.
Another way in which the Law Society prioritises European matters is by participating in the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the EU (CCBE). The CCBE brings together bars and law societies of the 15 member states, the three European Economic Area countries, plus a range of observer countries from Central and Eastern Europe. The Law Society runs the UK delegation to the CCBE, and there are Law Society representatives on a range of CCBE committees including competition, technology, Establishment Directive, Gats 2000, and the committee dealing with relations with Central and Eastern Europe. I am the Council Member who represents the Law Society on the UK delegation, and can testify to the high priority we place on ensuring that the profession's interests are safeguarded and promoted in Europe.
European law is obviously a part of domestic law, and so a number of Law Society committees are active in European law matters. The Company Law Committee has a particularly high profile in this field, but others – such as the Employment Law Committee with the launch of the European Employment Lawyers Association – have also been prominent.
The Law Society Council seat, which looks at European issues, is currently available following the resignation of Pauline McBride. This opens up an opportunity available for members of the Law Society's European Group, and others who may have experience in European law, to join the council and influence the society's dealings on European issues.
Robin Healey is a consultant at Ince & Co and is the Law Society council member responsible for international practice