Brexit, Solicitors, and Irish Re-qualification.

It is safe to assume that the overall decision from the UK to leave the European Union in June caused consternation.

There was political consternation: David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister, prompting a Conservative leadership -contest-that-wasn’t-a-leadership-contest. (Labour just simply broke.) In Northern Ireland, there was a return to the cry for a border poll from the largest nationalist party, Sinn Fein. There was economic consternation, as the value of the British Pound Sterling sharply declined and the FTSE 100 suffered. There was social consternation, as national identities were challenged: Scotland and Northern Ireland held majority Remain votes, whilst Wales and England boasted majority Leave votes. Could the vote to withdraw from the European Union has ramifications for the future of the ‘United’ element of the United Kingdom, it was pondered.
There has also been consternation of the legal variety. There have been legal challenges to the referendum result, calls for Parliament to vote on the result, and of course the issue of withdrawing is a legal one, relying on EU Treaties (that would be Art 50 of the TEU, aka Lisbon Treaty). In Northern Ireland, there are two legal challenges also underway (and I’ll write about them at some stage).
There is one other very interesting legal development post-referendum taking place, and this is occurring outside of the courts. It is on the basis of requalification: there has been a surge in applications from UK lawyers to join the Irish Law Society. And it does not appear to be abating anytime soon.
 For fun fact: the number of solicitors from England and Wales seeking to register the Law Society of Ireland has now reached a staggering 568 applicants, as uncertainty about the impact of Brexit continues. This uncertainty will surely continue, given the recent comments by Prime Minister Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference as to the timing of triggering Article 50: March 2017.

So far, 400 applications for the right to practise in the Irish courts have been accepted with a further 168 applications pending. These latest figures, which represent a vast six fold increase in the number of British lawyers registering to practise in the Ireland, have been attributed to the EU referendum vote from June.Why are these applications for registration underway, I hear you ask. Simply put, given the uncertainty over what Brexit means and what its consequences shall be, British lawyers are concerned that they will soon lose the apply to practice in EU law, or appear before EU courts. A successful application to the Irish Law Society would ensure that these British lawyers, registered with the Irish Law Society, would be permitted to continue working in the field of EU law. Essentially, whilst the UK withdraws from the EU, these lawyers, registered with a legal society in a EU member state, will be considered EU lawyers.

Magic Circle heavyweight Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, an international partnership with 2,500 lawyers worldwide, is alone responsible for some 104 registrations in Dublin to allow these lawyers to continues to appear before EU courts.

Simon Murphy is the President of the Irish Law Society,  and he met with Freshfields earlier this summer. He later said to The Irish Times that the firm explained how solicitors transferring to the roll in Ireland were members of the firm’s anti-trust, competition and trade law team, based in their London and Brussels offices:

“They have decided to take out qualification in an additional jurisdiction as a precautionary measure in advance of Britain’s exit from the EU, in case this might be necessary in the future to protect their status in dealing with EU institutions and their clients’ right to legal privilege in the course of EU investigations.”

Aside from Freshfields, other firms are seeking to transfer their solicitors. In September, the Irish Legal News reported it was expected that international law firm Kennedy’s would expand its Dublin operations. Meanwhile, firms that have reportedly been looking for new office space in Dublin in the aftermath of the EU referendum include Pinsent Masons and Eversheds.

Reports also have surfaced that suggested a number of lawyers at Freshfields, Slaughter and May, Allen & Overy, and Hogan Lovells had all applied to join the Republic’s roll of solicitors – all prior to the referendum result. Arguably, these solicitors and their firms considered pre-emptive action as the best course available before the referendum.

Just how big of a deal is this increase in applications for registration transfer? Well, a new report from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) highlights how the 310 UK-based solicitors admitted to practise in Ireland this year represents a huge increase on the 51 that qualified in 2015:

“It appears the main driver for this is a concern that solicitors in England and Wales will not be permitted to argue before the European Courts, such as the ECJ when the UK exits the EU…”

While the SRA said it could not give specific advice to individuals about career choices, it sought to provide reassurance that the rights of solicitors to practise in the EU had not changed since the referendum result.

“We have been given no indication of what the future relationship between the EU and UK will be…When negotiations have begun, any impact on solicitors will become clearer and we will provide further support and advice at that time.”

And there we have it. The ramifications of the EU referendum vote from this summer are many, and include consequences which perhaps were never considered in the discourse and the campaigning in the run-up to the vote.

It is interesting to note that sharp increase in the number of British lawyers seeking to register with the Law Society of Ireland. Even more interesting is the suggestion that many lawyers submitted their applications prior to the referendum. Evidently,  they thought it was a case of ‘better safe than sorry’. These lawyers thought ahead, after assessing the current landscape and the potential outcomes. It is a pity then that politicians, namely the British government, could not think to do the same.


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