Why legal services need to be considered in digital trade negotiations

The way legal services are provided in digital trade sets the sector apart and this needs to be reflected in the UK’s trade policy. We submitted written evidence on this view to the International Trade Committee’s inquiry into digital trade and data in February 2021.

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Our submission noted how technological development is redefining the way in which services are delivered internationally, highlighting that digitisation is one of the most important factors in the evolution of the legal sector.

As lawyers must follow their professional obligations, it's key that personal data processed by law firms is protected and that the fundamental rights of client confidentiality and legal professional privilege are safeguarded.

Read our submission online

In determining its trade policy for data and digital, we recommended that the UK government focuses on the following objectives:

  • ensuring that privacy and security remain the primary focus of the UK’s future regulatory framework, given lawyers’ duty to protect lawyer-client confidentiality and the significance of this to the proper administration of justice
  • working multilaterally and bilaterally to reduce behind-the-border barriers to trade, especially:
    • divergence between regulatory regimes, such as those protecting data (including localisation requirements and government access), electronic authentication, scope-definitions of digital services, intellectual property protection and enforcement, and those concerning liability
    • impediments to cross-border data and knowledge flow
    • lack of transparency in regulations
  • increasing cooperation between regulatory and representative bodies
  • drafting forward-looking, technology-neutral rules on digital trade that consider soft law principles and guidance
  • creating a regulatory environment that supports trade and gives effect to trade commitments, such as increased transparency, accountability and enforcement
  • developing a holistic approach to digital and data to ensure that these provisions can operate coherently and consistently alongside other service-facilitation provisions

Technological developments will have profound implications for the international practice of law and the development of international trade in services policies, which are developed with ‘physical’ movement of services in mind.

The UK government should play a leadership role in digital trade, employing a broad range of levers to facilitate its development:

  • working through the World Trade Organisation
  • bilateral or plurilateral trade agreements
  • other collaborative opportunities to set standards, such as mutual recognition arrangements, regulatory cooperation and in the domestic market

Find out more

If you're interested in our work on digital and data in trade, contact our international team.

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