UK trade deal with Australia will create opportunities for the legal profession
A free trade agreement (FTA) was reached last night between the UK and Australia that reflects the importance of market access for services for both economies, as the UK continues to forge new trade relationships after Brexit.
“The UK-Australia FTA provides certainty and creates opportunities for our legal professions to work together towards smoother trade in legal services, which will make doing business easier for clients,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“We believe that legal and other professional services should be at the forefront of the UK’s forthcoming trade discussions. Services, and in particular legal services, play an important role in facilitating the globalised market directly and indirectly.
“We are delighted to see this reflected in the articles on legal services and welcome the opportunities this agreement creates for both countries’ legal professionals.
“However, ensuring these opportunities are fully realised will take time. We look forward to continuing to work together with our counterparts for the benefit of both our professions.”
Latest figures show the legal sector contributed £29.6bn to the UK in 2019, equivalent to 1.5% of gross value added (GVA), and posted a trade surplus of £5.6bn in 2020.*
This makes the UK the largest legal services market in Europe – valued at £36.8bn in 2019 – and second only to the US globally.
The FTA responds to the Law Society’s key asks for legal services in trade agreements: greater recognition of qualifications, availability of a larger range of business structures – namely the UK LLP – and eased mobility options.
The agreement confirms the existing right for UK and Australian lawyers to advise clients and to provide arbitration, mediation and conciliation services in the other country’s territory, using their original (home) qualifications and title.
I. Stephanie Boyce added: “Enshrining the right to advise on home-country laws and public and private international law where they’re entitled to practise in their home jurisdiction in the FTA is an important achievement as it recognises the specificities of home title practice in international legal practice, without the need for mutual recognition procedures and/or requalification in the host country.
“Many barriers facing legal services providers are ‘behind the border’ and not suitable for an FTA, such as permitted business structures for law firms.
“However, provisions of the agreement establish and drive collaboration between relevant bodies – including the Law Society of England and Wales and the Law Council of Australia – through a bespoke legal services regulatory dialogue, and will help address some of the barriers that can’t be dealt with in the FTA.
“The FTA also creates new opportunities by providing UK law firms with legally guaranteed access to Australian government contracts for legal services that are covered by the agreement.”
The new agreement will also help legal professionals hoping to provide cross-border services, by making it easier for lawyers to train in Australia.
“Mobility is one of the biggest issues facing our firms. We are pleased to see the agreement comes with several eased mobility options for legal service providers. Companies will be able to sponsor visas committed in the FTA without an economic needs test and there will be no limitations on the number of visas granted to business persons.
“Junior lawyers will also be given greater mobility through unprecedented changes to the UK and Australia’s Youth Mobility Schemes – now available to nationals up to 35 years of age for a stay of up to three years, without having to undertake specified regional work in Australia.
“We will also discuss with the UK government what opportunities may be available for the legal sector in the pilot new visa scheme for UK citizens that allows early career workplace exchanges for graduates.”
The FTA also commits to increasing opportunities for digital trade across all sectors of the economy, while ensuring standards for personal data protection and for legitimate public policy objectives.
Digitisation is already one of the most important factors in the evolution of the legal profession and legal services and will continue to become more so, as reflected in how the profession moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I. Stephanie Boyce added: “Currently, lawyers, law firms and workplaces operating internationally must deal with a regulatory patchwork of data and digital provisions.
“Therefore, provisions – such as those guaranteeing the validity of electronic transactions and contracts – that provide greater clarity and certainty for businesses operating internationally in the digital sector are a welcome development.
“We look forward to continuing to work with government and our counterparts to realise the benefits of the agreement and help our members make use of the new opportunities in the New Year.”
Notes to editors
* Figures taken from the CityUK’s report Legal excellence, internationally renowned UK legal services 2021
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