In the Media

Law now one of our best exports

PUBLISHED December 29, 2011

It is not just real estate agents and luxury boutiques that are thankful for the arrival of Russia?s super-rich in London ? they have also brought a windfall for the city?s lawyers.

Several of the biggest commercial cases heard in Britain in the past few years have involved parties from the former Soviet Union, racking up hundreds of millions of pounds in fees for the top commercial law firms and barristers.

Most visible has been the $6 billion battle between Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky, which has enthralled the Commercial Court for three months and shed light on the chaotic ?Wild East? of the 1990s. The legal bill is expected to be some £110 million.

It will be followed by a handful of other blockbuster Eastern European disputes that are scheduled in the High Court next year, including a £2.5 billion claim against Oleg Deripaska, the aluminium tycoon with ties to some of Britain?s political elite.

English law has quietly become one of the UK?s most successful exports in recent years, chosen by parties around the world to govern commercial contracts because of its reputation for rigour, certainty and incorruptibility.

This has helped Britain?s law firms to gain a dominant position in fast-growing new markets and its professional services sector ran up a £7 billion trade surplus last year.

Faced with competition from Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and elsewhere, the city?s legal elite have been promoting the English courts to attract even more big-ticket disputes.

But the prospect of our courts hearing more big-value cases between wealthy foreign litigants is one that will rightly make many people, including those in the legal profession, uneasy.

Many will rightly ask whether our judges and courts should be tied up adjudicating disputes between rich people who have little or no connection to Britain, particularly when swingeing legal aid cuts are likely to mean that many at the other end of the economic ladder are left without access to legal representation.