Stuart Popham is chairman of TheCityUK When I heard Kenneth Clarke say: ‘The City of London is a legal centre – not just a financial one,’ I raised a cheer. He was speaking at my alma mater, Clifford Chance, at an event arranged by the TheCityUK, with the support of the Law Society and the Bar Council. Earlier, he had said: ‘Law as an industry has in the past sometimes felt itself to be something of an overlooked Cinderella in its treatment by government.’ This is quite so. While the politicians and much of the City have been debating the causes of global financial crisis and the banking review, a world-class and export-led home-grown success story was waiting patiently to be told. At the latest count, the legal sector is worth £23.1bn or 1.8% of the UK’s gross domestic product. For those interested in the balance of payments, it is worth a net £3.2bn in exports to the UK – nearly three times more than a decade earlier. This is a major contribution to the nation’s coffers; one which the government has the duty to nurture. I know from my own experience how financial services centres can only thrive if they have the right legal framework to resolve commercial disputes. We are fortunate that the UK, and London in particular, already has this framework and the people to make it a success. One of TheCityUK’s roles is to demonstrate the indivisibility of the mechanisms that make this success: the range of languages, professions, and experts to provide tailored services across the dispute resolution field. We have an envied reputation for the fair, effective and transparent resolution of international commercial disputes. The lord chancellor also told the 100-strong invited audience: ‘I am prepared to wear out much shoe leather promoting the UK as lawyer and adviser to the world, particularly in areas where protectionist regulations remain an impediment.’ This too was a welcome commitment, and one where a true public-private partnership is essential if we are to make the most of our competitive advantages. The industry’s participation and direction, through the recently launched Action Plan, will be vital to identify and break down trade barriers. As an industry, the legal services sector should welcome the commitment to involve representatives from its professional bodies in visits and trade delegations, including prime ministerial missions and the forthcoming visit to India by the lord chancellor. Crucially, there was the understanding that worldwide competition for legal services is set to intensify over the coming decade. In this context, Clarke’s comment on the plan to introduce a European contract law was forthright. It is an ‘Esperanto fallacy’, he said, ‘a utopian belief that a perceived problem of diversity of languages can be solved by creating an extra one’. However, this will be one to watch. There was one topic not touched on in the speech: immigration. International players must be able to plan confidently to use the UK as a base for their global operations. This, along with the visa regime, will be part of the ongoing dialogue between the sector, the business-focused ministries and the Home Office. Next, in October, we will have the ‘Unlocking Disputes’ campaign. This will be launched to complement the opening of the new courts complex at the Rolls Building. It is an industry-led initiative to promote the litigation, arbitration and mediation services available here. It will also be used to brief the Foreign Office and UKTI staff in Britain’s embassies and high commissions who are on the front line of the government’s new ‘commercial diplomacy’. Susan Haird, the deputy chief executive of UKTI, spoke on this aspect of her department’s work during the panel session at the event. Lastly, the Rolls Building itself will bring together the combined specialist judicial expertise of the High Court in relation to financial, business and property disputes. It will be home to the largest concentration of judicial expertise of that type anywhere in the world. We know nobody comes here for the weather or to do business in a particular building because of its shiny new furniture, but the new court is the physical embodiment of a commitment to promote the legal services sector, and the industry’s ambition to make London the venue of choice for resolving global commercial disputes.