Too many individuals who should know better (both politicians and lawyers) are peddling fantasies about the policy behind, and the effect of, the reform of the Legal Practitioners Law. May I deal with some of them?
The most egregiously wrong is the idea that the bill facilitates the use by firms operating in Cayman of call centers in developing countries manned by low-paid individuals to give advice to clients.
The bill does not do so. It resolves a long-standing complaint that multinational firms give advice on Cayman law to their substantial clients in Asia (in particular) without compliance with the requirements of the law which apply to lawyers resident in Cayman. The bill’s solution is to require regulation of those lawyers giving advice on Cayman law in foreign jurisdictions by qualification, practicing certificates and the payment of fees. Above all, it empowers the new regulator to require a firm to reduce the number of lawyers practicing abroad if their number exceeds a statutory proportion of all the lawyers in the firm.
Some have suggested that the bill impairs the prospects of young Caymanians entering law firms, or “does nothing” to help them achieve equity partnership. On the contrary, the new regulation will enable and encourage firms to send young Caymanian lawyers to their overseas offices to gain experience in dealing with some of the most sophisticated clients in the world. Do the phone-in commentators really think that the world’s businesses and investors will entrust their affairs to a Cayman firm delivering advice from a call center in a developing country?
In addition, the bill introduces a significant restriction on the hiring of overseas qualified lawyers by requiring them to undergo a four-month period of training and to pass an examination in Cayman law, in addition to the existing requirement that they have practised in the home jurisdiction for at least three years.
There is no change in the rules for Caymanians who are able to undertake training contracts in Cayman and take up qualified lawyers’ posts at the end of training.
Caymanian lawyers (whether aspiring or qualified) should also recognise that the new regulator will be governed by a Caymanian majority, and will have genuine powers to enforce the policies of the bill. Failure to comply will be professional misconduct and for the first time there will be an objective disciplinary structure to remedy such misconduct.
Both the Caymanian Bar Association and the Cayman Islands Law Society ought to be congratulated for their agreement on and support for the provisions of the bill, which should not be treated as a political gaming chip.
The commentators should also remember that an equity partner in a very substantial firm will have had at least 15 if not 20 years’ experience before being considered for selection. The number of young lawyers worldwide who will achieve that status is a very small minority. The commentators should not pretend to young Caymanians that qualification is the end of the difficult road to a full and successful career.
I add that I have no interest of my own in the manner in which the Cayman profession is regulated here or overseas, save only that I wish it to be modern, responsive and enforceable.
Richard de Lacy, QC