by Richard Coulson
The article “Demise of The Bahamas as an Offshore Financial Centre” contains major truths about our decline that cannot be discounted. However, in placing the blame on the demands of EU, OECD, FATF and IMF and our own craven failure to fight back, the author ignores one major factor in the decline that our lawyers don’t like to talk about: their own reactionary policy of not permitting foreign lawyers to set up permanent resident practices here.
Offshore financial services no longer depend on how many banks or trust companies a jurisdiction can boast. Increasingly, they depend on teams of lawyers, tax specialists, accountants, financial administrators, risk analysts, and investment advisors capable of serving the complex needs of giant international companies and investment funds.
Our offshore competitors in Bermuda, Cayman, BVI, Channel Islands and many newer centers like Dubai and Mauritius have learned this lesson about diversifying their services away from the traditional bank-and-trust formula. At a recent OffshoreAlert conference in Miami, I didn’t hear much worry about “Demise” in these jurisdictions. They appear to be thriving.
Unfortunately, we cannot begin to make these changes without a re-structuring of our legal profession, adamantly opposed by the backwoodsmen of our Bar Council and even our Deputy Attorney General. While our lawyers can provide excellent service in their chosen fields. it is simply impossible for them to gain the same international expertise–and connections–as attorneys who have spent years practicing in London, Edinborough, Dublin, or Toronto. So our law firms are passed over by financial heavyweight clients, losing millions of fee revenue that could support our GDP.
It’s easy to read the roster of several hundred partners of Applebys in Bermuda and Maples&Calder in Cayman (each with several foreign branches} and see the details of their extensive experience before moving offshore. We have few if any of this type. Apparently our Bar leaders fear they would take business away from Bahaman lawyers, whereas actually they would hire and train many juniors to rise in new fields. Foreign lawyers are now welcome only to handle a particular case or transaction and then take the first plane home.
In writing longer columns on this subject several years ago, I found there was a minority of local lawyers with a progressive view, who often felt oppressed by the dominant Old Guard. Even sophisticated QC Brian Moree seemed ambivalent about change. Perhaps only the imminent arrival of the WTO regime can compel salutary changes to open up our legal profession from its present chauvinism.
Mr. Coulson has had a long career in law, investment banking and private banking in New York, London, and Nassau, and now serves as director of several financial concerns and as a corporate financial consultant. He has recently released his autobiography, A Corkscrew Life: Adventures of a Travelling Financier.