Law Society deputy vice-president Robert Bourns has urged the government to do more to protect the strength of the UK's legal sector.

In a speech at the Policy Exchange conference on the future of the City, Bourns said the UK faces increasing competition from the likes of New York, Hong Kong and Singapore, who are developing their jurisdictions.

Bourns said the government must act now to maintain the UK's competitiveness and retains its position as a global leader for legal services.

In particular, that means a change in business migration policy which currently the UK at a disadvantage to the US.

'Like other UK international businesses, law firms need the support of a public policy framework which is sufficiently flexible to allow us to anticipate and take advantage of changing business needs,' Bourns told an audience of lawyers, bankers and accountants.

The deputy vice-president also called for the removal of trade barriers which keep British goods and services from reaching viable markets. He cited the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Canada and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the US as examples of the liberalisation needed.

Bourns also revealed that law firms have contacted the Law Society with their concerns over the UK's future membership of the European Union and its effect on business.

He said the uncertainty was 'unsettling' at a time when the EU is seeking to move towards a larger, more unified professional services market.

Britain's EU membership was important, he argued, if we are to remain attractive to the European market and sustain our position as the 'largest legal services market in Europe'.

Bourns said the legal sector makes a direct economic contribution of 1.5% of the UK's GDP, with 67 jobs supported for every 100 jobs in the legal profession.

Law Society research has found that every £1 of output of the UK legal services sector underpins £2.39 of output in the UK economy as a whole.

Bourns added: 'To retain its position as a leading economy in this such competitive world, the UK must develop and play to our strengths. The legal sector is one of those strengths.'

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