London's Legal Industry

The legal industry in London is well established to say the very least and has been an integral part of the UK capital's professional life for many centuries. Much of the legal profession is based in the City of London, near to the so-called Inns around Holborn such as Lincoln Inn Fields, for example, which was first established in the 1630s. This is because the location of these places gives easy access to the major courts in London, like the Old Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice. Nowadays, many legal practices continue to operate in these historic buildings but you are just as likely to find a large legal firm operating from purpose built modern offices in Docklands or the West End.

Because the UK has its own legal system, many barristers, lawyers and other legal professionals are well-versed in the laws of the land and ply their trade in both criminal and civil law from London. Like all of the major cities in the UK, the capital has plenty of courts and proceedings taking place in them to keep a small army of legal professionals in employment. However, London also handles many of the major cases and has the highest courts in the land where many test cases are brought to be finally settled. This makes London - in British terms - the most important city in the country, legally speaking.

However, it should not be overlooked that the capital of the UK also boasts one of the most successful global legal services business in any part of the world you could think of. Indeed, there are only two places which have a global export industry in legal jurisdictions of any size. These are London and New York. Both cities are home to international law firms which do substantial amounts of business for clients in foreign territories and within overseas legal systems.

English law has some differences to the often codified versions that are found in Europe and this has been advantageous to London as a centre for international law. For example, the flexibility of an un-codified set of laws means that many global corporations find business contracts drawn up in London to be attractive as opposed to those written in a place with a code based legal framework - such as France, for example. For many transaction-based businesses, in particular the international securities market, London lawyers offer the best sort of service because of this lack of restriction. English common law is the un-codified part of the legal system which does not rely on statutes - that is, laws which have been passed by parliament - to function. This common law is one of the most widely used legal systems around globe and it is employed in well over a quarter of the world's legal jurisdictions. This is partly because it was exported throughout the globe when London was at the centre of an Empire, but it has remained in place largely because of its flexibility.

Another important reason for global firms seeking out the services of London-based legal professionals is the undoubted international reputation of the judiciary in the UK. In many parts of the world, legal wrangles have a habit of being settled in the local party's favour. However, London judges have a well-deserved reputation for fairness which is made available to businesses based in foreign countries as well as to domestic firms. Access to the UK's highest courts to settle disputes is a chief reason for many companies using the London legal profession to draw up their contracts - even if the work being carried out under them is taking place in another part of the world altogether.

All of the major UK law firms are based in the capital. These include DLA Piper - which also has a big operation in Chicago - as well as Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklater. As well as the lawyers and legally trained professionals that these top law firms employ there are a huge number of support staff who also rely on the legal industry for their livelihood. These people could be anything from legal secretaries, court ushers, clerks and administrative assistants. Many in the industry are involved with preparatory work, such as reviewing and re-drafting legal documentation.

There can be little doubt that the historic strength of London's legal industry is intrinsically linked to its financial services sector. Because there are so many big financial services companies, accountancy firms, banks and insurance underwriters in the City of London the need for legal services is always high. With so many legal firms with expertise that has built up over decades of performing work for companies in these financial sectors, it is little wonder that financially-focussed businesses elsewhere in the world also seek out their services and legal know-how in an ever competitive global market.