13 Dec 2021

UK enjoys £5.6bn legal services trade surplus; barristers’ overseas income soars

Research by City lobbying group says courts among world’s most trusted as it promotes value of English law

Derek Sweeting QC, outgoing chair of the Bar Council Image courtesy of the Bar Council

Legal services contributed nearly £30bn to the UK economy in 2019 according to a report by London lobbying group TheCityUK highlighting the value of the sector to the national economy.
‘Legal excellence, internationally renowned: UK legal services 2021’ found that the UK ranked second for legal services fees globally, behind the United States, generating a trade surplus in 2020 of £5.6bn. 
Revenue of the UK’s largest 100 law firms grew by 4% in 2021 to £28.8bn, the report states, while there are more than 200 foreign law firms with offices in the UK with parties from 75 countries using the commercial courts over the last two years.
The report says TheCityUK’s legal services group, which is chaired by former Herbert Smith Freehills senior partner James Palmer, has been ‘building and maintaining strong relationships with senior government, regulatory and industry stakeholders’ to maintain the competitiveness of the sector, work that includes ‘creating both new export markets and building deeper links with existing markets’.
Derek Sweeting QC, outgoing chair of the Bar Council of England and Wales, which represents barristers, welcomed the report adding that analysis from its insurer, Bar Mutual, showed overseas income had tripled for barristers from £114m in 2005 to more than £394m last year.
Calling the data a “reminder of the global strength of our legal sector” Sweeting referenced a recent report on the value of English law as an international dispute resolution tool. 

“English common law continues to be the foundation of legal systems around the world and the most widely chosen law to govern international commercial transactions. Our courts remain among the most appealing and trusted across the world,” he added.
Together with Law Society president Stephanie Boyce, Sweeting recently took part in a UK legal services trade mission to the UAE, along with leading sets including 36 Stone, Atkin Chambers, and Twenty Essex. 
Twenty Essex’s chief executive, Jemma Tagg, said: “Almost every case we work on has an international element; many entirely so. The enthusiasm of overseas clients looking to instruct the Bar continues to strengthen, so [these figures] come as no surprise.”
She added: “We have been strategically growing our international relationships for years, with ever greater focus, and see significant opportunities to continue to act for overseas clients and to participate in co-counsel teams with overseas professional clients in dispute resolution both in the UK and internationally.”
The report found that 43,209 disputes were resolved by alternative dispute resolution in the UK, while London was placed joint first as the preferred venue to resolve arbitral disputes in a survey released by Queen Mary University earlier in 2021. 
Greg Leyden, senior clerk of 7 King’s Bench Walk, welcomed recognition for the Bar’s work, “especially in our key markets of shipping, trade, and insurance, but also increasingly in civil fraud and big-ticket commercial disputes.” 
Leyden concluded: “Our members are active in areas where those markets are, and we expect to remain so in 2022."

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