From Russia, with Love of Legal London

If not absolutely love of, then at least interest in, from a delightful group of young Russian lawyers whom I took around this week on a circular tour of the Inns of Court area of London, starting and finishing at the Law Society in Chancery Lane.

During an induction programme before the lawyers went off to short secondments in City law firms, organised by the Law Society as part of a Russo-British exchange programme, my job was to show them some of Legal London’s hidden gems, and also to answer questions on the system of England & Wales for the education and training of lawyers and on anything else law related that they fancied asking me.

However, first there is the question of what is Legal London. If you look at in terms of contribution to UK GDP, it isn’t in the area of the Temple, Strand, Chancery Lane and Holborn; it is further east in the City of London alongside the banks, brokers and accountants.

But a tour of the office blocks of the City, unless done through the perspective of modern architecture, would reveal very little visually about what was going on in City solicitors’ firms.

In contrast, the physical world of barristers is far more transparent, as you can see the advocates walking to and from court, peer (though not obtrusively) into the busy pit of the clerks’ rooms, and admire the Range Rovers, Porsches and Mini Coopers in the surface car parks of the Inns (side note – many junior barristers throughout the country work very hard for relatively modest financial reward).

My guests were interested in all things concerning the practice of law in this country, and at one point we stopped for a lively impromptu seminar on the structure of barristers’ business organisations and to consider what, if you are an important QC as head of chambers, you actually do.

Nevertheless there was time also for the stuff that usually entertains any visitor to this closeted part of London, and we laughed at how the British can call a square built in the early 1800s, New Square, we noted the ephemera of cats and dogs on the Royal Courts of Justice, we regarded the building where David Bowie once worked as a lowly photocopying operator, and we found the hidden Judges’ entrance to the Temple – to adopt the phraseology of the late John le Mesurier in Dad’s Army, Londoners are really rather good at having these hidden entrances to things.

Beneath the pomp and the circumstance lies a long-established system of law that remains, by any survey I have seen, the dominant jurisdiction of choice for the resolution of disputes in cross-border transactions.

Yet life does seem to imitate the art, or rather the architecture, of these hallowed places of legal practice, and by coincidence a colleague mentioned to me this week the story of a young lawyer recently admitted to Lincoln’s Inn to become a barrister who, when asked why they had chosen Lincoln’s Inn, answered “Because it looks like Hogwarts”. See photograph for q.e.d.