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An Introduction to the Law Society of England and Wales

Entertainment and Sports Lawyer

Volume 33, Number 2, Winter 2017

An Interview with Ben Stevenson

by Alexandra Darraby

Describe LSEW for Forum members.

The Law Society is the professional association for solicitors in England and Wales, representing the interests of over 160,000 solicitors to parliament, government, and regulatory bodies. We have a public interest role in promoting access to justice and the reform of the law. The Law Society works internationally to defend human rights and help our members do business in the global marketplace.

What is your role at the Law Society within that framework?

I work in the Law Society's international team, covering the Americas region.

How long have you been at the Law Society?

Three and a half years.

Are you an attorney?

I have an international law, but I am not a qualified [licensed] legal practitioner.

Forum members may not realize that while ABA includes litigators and transactional lawyers, your system is different. Share with ESL readers how and why barristers and solicitors “split” roles.

Simply put, barristers (represented by Bar Council) are the equivalent of litigators in the United States, while the Law Society represents solicitors, the transactional lawyers. While the distinction between the two has been eroding over time, the main difference is that solicitors provide continuous services to clients, while barristers act as specialist advocates in courts.

Only solicitors can 'instruct' a barrister to work on a domestic case in England and Wales on behalf of their client. In the UK, any client seeking legal advice or needing legal representation will turn to a solicitor as the first point of call who can, as needed, instruct a barrister.

Recent reforms somewhat blur the distinction, introducing an element of competition between solicitors and barristers—particularly in international work. However, overall, solicitors and barristers continue to work closely together.

What was your pre-Law Society life, and where?

I worked as a European Union lobbyist for Saferworld, a non-profit focusing on peace-building and conflict prevention. Before that, I worked as a political advisor in the British parliament on foreign affairs, defense and international development issues.

Law Society’s outreach to other Bars—including the ABA—is broad, and frankly impressive. How does home life accommodate international travel as part of your job description, and vice versa?

Thank you for saying so! We are team of fifteen and it is a collective effort. Given that thousands of our solicitors are practicing overseas, in every region of the globe, it is important that the work of the Law Society reflects that. Every year, as a team, we put together business plans covering all our activities and international travel. We have to make the case for each trip, showing why it is of value and what it will achieve for the Society and its members.

Although travel is demanding, I have visited parts of the world I never would have seen otherwise—so it is a great honor. Initially, the excitement and desire to get out to meet our counterparts and members (and see new and exciting places) is a driving force. I don’t have a partner or kids, so that hasn't been a consideration for me. However, even with the best will in the world, the long flights, jetlag, time away from friends and family, has a toll.

The Forum is all about outreach and inclusion. On an international scale, even in entertainment and culture communities, there are different customs and mores and sensitivities. Sometimes the most well-meaning outreach has its adventurous moments. What's the most embarrassing cultural miscue you ever had working with Law Society, and in what country?

I was on a multi-country trip as part of a trade delegation led by the Lord Mayor of London. Arriving in Peru from Colombia, my luggage was lost. Arriving at my hotel at midnight and my first meeting with the Minister of Justice and Human Rights at 8:30 a.m., and without a suit or business clothes, the British Embassy saved the day by lending me a suit. However, we weren't quite of the same physical stature, he being taller and larger than I. I looked like an awkward kid wearing daddy’s suits, including keeping my hands in my pockets just to hold the trousers!

I laugh now, but it made me realize just how much clothes give confidence. Not quite a cultural miscue but embarrassing nonetheless, and definitely a learning curve—always carry a suit as hand luggage!

Ben Stevenson

Ben Stevenson in his borrowed, albeit somewhat baggy, suit and the President of the Peruvian Supreme Court

What's the most rewarding experience you recall, and where?

It's hard to pick out a specific experience. There have been so many. I have been the representative of the Law Society and so have acted at that senior level, meeting directly with presidents of supreme courts and bar associations, ministers of justice, ambassadors, and other senior figures. I have given speeches at Embassies, law schools, and spoke on conference panels. Nerve wracking, but always an honor. I am always struck by how friendly, open, and keen to build international connections lawyers are, no matter where they are from.

Entertainment is a major US export. The data shows at least 80% of global entertainment content sources to the United States. So here is the question—what is your favorite movie? How about UK TV exports here? Alert, Downtown Abbey addicts may be reading this interview!

I'm a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy fan. I have too many favorite films to pick just one, but I remember being completely blown away watching the first of The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the cinema.

As for TV shows, without hesitation I can say my favorite show of all time is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, followed closely by the West Wing. Very different genres, but each brilliant. More recently, the US remake of House of Cards and Game of Thrones have been my main TV obsessions. As for our exports, I would highly recommend the BBC's 'Planet Earth' series—the latest season of which is just airing here now. It is world leading wildlife documentary and just incredible to watch.

So why IS the Law Society active in the United States?

The United States is a priority for us [the Law Society]. Over 700 solicitors practice permanently [in the USA]: primarily in New York, Washington D.C., and California. In some ways, the distinction between US and UK firms has eroded—with 'English' firms with offices in the United States employing mostly American attorneys there, and many (though not all) 'US' firms in London employing mostly English solicitors.

This collaboration and conflation of cross-pond legal activity implicates ethical issues and professional responsibilities. Are you involved as part of the Law Society’s international team?

ABA and Law Society member firms are subject to regulations in both the United States and the United Kingdom. As such, it is important for the Law Society to work with the ABA, state bar associations, and others to understand the regulatory space in the United States and to represent the views of our profession in US debates about changes and reforms of these legal regulations. We use our contacts in America to help our members network with US lawyers and potential clients, and we work with our US counterparts—particularly the ABA— on rule of law/human rights issues and to promote legal market liberalisation around the globe.

Thank you Ben. Thank you Alexandra.

About the Author

Alexandra Darraby, Forum Governing Committee member, interviewed Ben Stevenson, International Policy Adviser for the Law Society of England and Wales (LSEW), as part of the opening of Legal Week in London, England. Alexandra is the Founding Chair of the International Division in the Forum. As the Forum’s Liaison to the Law Society and other entities, Alexandra reports on LSEW activities at home and abroad, and the interview tucks in Ben’s top picks for film and TV

Published in Entertainment & Sports Lawyer, Volume 33, Number 2, Winter 2017. © 2017 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.