The Blog

Lawyers May Charge £850 an Hour, but We Should Be Proud of the UK's Legal Services Industry

The UK has a proud history of exporting goods and know-how. Sadly, incidents of this are few and far between in the modern age. But our legal services and court system is a key and growing export, admired and used across the globe.

New research which shows some 'top gun' lawyers at big law firms are charging £850 an hour has led to a predictable battering of the legal profession in the UK.

The report suggests that rate is being charged in some quarters of the country's Magic Circle law firms. With the economy easing its way out of recession and moving into the early stages of growth, but with many families still trying to make ends meet, the figures do not make for welcome reading in a number of quarters.

The free market and pricing is a huge issue at the moment, with the focus on pay-day loan companies and tariffs charged by the big energy companies.

That is a separate issue, and one which has led to the latest capitalism versus state intervention debate.

Lawyers too are governed in part by supply and demand.

Big law firms are usually hired by big companies. News International hired the very fine legal brains at City law firm Linklaters for assistance with the phone hacking investigation, while RBS has recently taken on Clifford Chance to look into allegations leveled against it regarding the treatment of SMEs.

I have argued these figures have been allowed to march on in an anti-recessionary spiral as in-house counsel at large companies are fearful of shopping around. They want to tell the CEO that they have the best, and comfort often comes with a big name and a big bill. It's a case of covering one's back.

The key point of this is how we view the British legal system. There should always be checks and balances, but we really should be proud of the legal services industry in this country.

The UK has a proud history of exporting goods and know-how. Sadly, incidents of this are few and far between in the modern age.

But our legal services and court system is a key and growing export, admired and used across the globe. Where people come to the City for our financial expertise, our legal experts are taking their services to other countries.

It's a painful truth that there are current problems with smaller law firms in the UK having huge financial difficulties.

But in terms of international reach, the official stats tell the story. Figures from the Office for National Statistics shows the legal services slice of the UK export figure doubled between 2004 and 2010 from £2bn to £3.7bn.

Lawyers are taking exports into various emerging markets, including Russia, Brazil and China. One other country - India - is also a new destination for the section of the industry in which I am primarily concerned with: litigation funding.

London is the key Commercial Litigation centre in the world. The Rolls Building, which opened two years ago, is a high-tech 31 court "super-court" building which handles multi-party disputes.

It was built and marketed to make London the world's preeminent destination for swiftly resolving international high-value legal disputes. All of this, of course, brings in money to the country, with the UK enjoying a much faster resolution process than our friends on the continent.

The Rolls Building has already housed huge court battles, enhancing the UK's reputation as a market leader, and has been a particularly favourite destination of Russian businessmen with a case to bring.

We must remember that these are not taxpayer funded, and although costs regimes are feeling the force of reforms, bills are paid for by clients, not the man on the street.

There is sharp criticism aimed towards litigation in the UK, particularly when it comes to legal action involving companies.

But those critics also have few answers to give when asked if they feel it is right that businesses which have been wronged should be denied access to justice. It is true - litigation should always be a final option, mediation is always the preferred route rather than a costly trial.

Allowing businesses to sink because they have had no chance to right wrongs they have faced, is more damaging to the economy than allowing them the route to seek recompense.

There are other 'infamous' titles London carries - the world's divorce capital, is one, the world's libel capital, is another. In both cases, it can be argued that access to justice is being given. As challenging and controversial as both processes can be, they represent choices for people who have needed to turn to the courts.

So while some may not agree with the figures being charged by the upper echelons of UK legal practice, it is time to respect the success of this unique and growing export business.

For more on litigation funding, visit