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technical specialism in cross-border commercial law

Commercial lawyers can no longer afford to be tied to their home jurisdictions’ apron strings – they must take on the global village by expanding their awareness of cross- border legal issues.

That potentially career-saving advice comes from the top levels of the administration of the joint International Bar Association-College of Law LLM in International Legal Practice. The organisers stress that nuts-and-bolts black-letter law is at the heart of the LLM course, which is geared to give graduates a competitive edge in the increasingly global practice of commercial law.

‘If you are an international lawyer or a lawyer at a large commercial law firm, you can’t simply say: “I just do English law.” It just doesn’t work like that anymore,’ warns Martin Smith, the college’s head of business development.

Technical study

Course administrators point out that the five-year old LLM provides students with a fine-tuned specialisation in cross-border law, with the recently launched full-time course being even more steeped in technical study.

Its six modules – business, finance and the legal services market, international intellectual property, international competition and anti-trust, international mergers and acquisitions, international joint ventures, and international arbitration practice – all lean strongly towards the study of cross-border issues. Which means that while the modules all examine the law from a UK perspective, they also focus substantially on other major jurisdictions. For example, the M&A module concentrates significantly on the US jurisdictions, while the competition module has a heavy dose of EU and US law.

Indeed, the competition module is especially illustrative of this approach. It focuses heavily on areas such as articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and also on major US legislation such as the Sherman Anti-trust Act, which, while more than 100 years old, is still highly relevant to all businesses doing cross- border deals in America.

But the LLM’s competition module doesn’t simply focus on the two huge jurisdictions of the EU and US – it also delves into regulatory issues in Australia and South Africa.

Merger regimes

The M&A field is another example of the international black-letter law focus of the LLM. As Mr Smith explains, these days only the smallest mergers do not involve cross-border issues. ‘The chances are that if they are of a certain size,’ he says, ‘there is a high probability that those mergers will have to be cleared by the relevant authorities in numerous jurisdictions – the US, Europe, China, just to name the most obvious. So the LLM provides a strong and invaluable grounding in how those regimes work, for example, around the highly complex threshold rules in each jurisdiction, which are especially difficult in the European context.’

For Mr Smith, the issue is not one of multiple qualifications, but of gaining a sufficient multi-jurisdictional

‘Historically, lawyers had some depth of knowledge of different subjects, now they need a great deal of depth in a narrow subject area but in a wider number of jurisdictions.’

And a wider breadth of knowledge is exactly what the course administrators maintain is what students will receive from the full-time, face-to-face London-based LLM.

grounding so that lawyers can make educated and informed decisions.

‘Today’s commercial lawyers don’t all need to be specialists in cross-border fields,’ he says. ‘For example an EU competition lawyer needn’t also be a specialist in American anti-trust law. But that lawyer needs to know the issues sufficiently well so he can contact an American specialist. An English lawyer won’t be qualified to advise on the intricacies of the US anti-trust law, but the LLM will have put that person in a position where he can recognise the issues and then go to the right US expert.

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