Spain could attract more top law firms by creating an English law jurisdiction in Madrid

Law firms in Spain should be employing UK-qualified barristers and solicitors in internal Brexit departments who deal with UK clients in English, says Madrid-based barrister Robert G. Bonnar

With the UK some months away from exiting the European Union, Spain has not tried to attract top law firms to its sunny shores. From London, I see no evidence whatsoever of national branding, no macro plan to capture legal business for Spain. Yes, London will likely remain a dominant location for top firms post-Brexit, but why should it?

If one cares to look at the Law360’s Global 20, it is evident that top firms are already on the move – just like banks – out of the UK and into other EU member states. More than 1,500 UK lawyers have seemingly already registered in Ireland since Brexit. Ireland uses its own laws, but in English and has a basis in common law.

More difficult to enforce contracts
It is beyond doubt that many international finance contracts are written in English, and global businesses use English as a common language, as well as relying upon English law to settle contracts, and therefore disputes. However, enforcing such contracts inside the EU will become ever more difficult after the UK’s departure in March 2019.

I suggest that Spain should try to capture the major US firms and those London exiles by adopting a bold new vision: an English speaking/English Law jurisdiction, with a hub inside the business district of Madrid. One need only look at Dubai to see the astonishing success of the DIFC (the Dubai International Financial Centre). As with the DIFC, the laws of the Madrid Legal and Financial Services Centre (MLFSC) would be avowedly based on the precedents and legal principles of the laws of England and Wales – which make the City of London such an attractive location for business.

Madrid at the forefront
Such a services centre would instantly create a top new location for UK lawyers to move to – with a burgeoning English law business and legal ethos – that would quickly propel Madrid to the front of cities destined to benefit from Brexit.

A great way to begin such an initiative would be with an annual “English Law Conference”. This could bring together established and ambitious Spanish law firms, with new UK entrants, and allow a corridor to develop for skilled and specialised UK lawyers looking to remain working inside the EU. At a minimum, law firms in Spain should begin immediately employing UK-qualified barristers and solicitors – in an internal Brexit department – who can continue to deal with UK clients in the international language of business, English. Madrid has more than two-and-a-half million square metres of office space. Rents are lower than Dublin, and there is greater availability. The establishment of a specialist English legal and financial centre, would attract businesses and investment not only from London but from the US, from big firms that want to access Europe, that already speak English, and which also want to be inside the EU.

Offering tax breaks
Ironically, the UK Bar Council and Law Society could help organise such a conference. Advances could be made on replacing London as the international arbitration capital, with Madrid as the more modern business-minded international mediation capital. Harmonising UK corporate governance, anti-money laundering and financial regulations in one EU location, not to mention using UK company law, would be an easy and excellent way to incorporate the best in class from the English legal system. It is beyond doubt that British common law has already developed strong precedents in the use of trans-jurisdictional injunctions, worldwide freezing orders for financial crimes, and equitable, as well as common law, remedies that businesses know and like.

Imagine also that companies registering inside the MLFSC – this exclusive Madrid English law jurisdiction – could avail of some targeted tax breaks. Then, the doors really would fly open.

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Laura Escarpa