The background to a post-Brexit legal jobs market

Part of our series: What does Brexit mean for lateral hires?

The global legal services market has fallen on hard times since 2009. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008, demand for law firm services shrunk by 5.1% and has remained essentially flat ever since.

With the impact of globalization moving well beyond our understanding and expectations of the modern digital economy, law firms have not only downsized, but many have begun to outsource and automate most of the traditionally mundane paralegal and trainee/junior associate legal work in fields like transactional due diligence and litigation discovery. AI technology is reshaping the consumer/client dynamic and revolutionising access to legal information in the same way it has impacted the journalism and print media sectors. Corporate clients often no longer authorize “carte blanche” legal expenditure, alternative fee arrangements are more common, and clients are continually questioning where they can save on legal expenses using competitive tendering and paneling. In order to preserve margins, firms are embracing technology to assist with outsourcing, automation and now to make legal recruitment more efficient and much cheaper.

A recent Deloitte study entitled “Developing Legal Talent: Stepping Into The Future Law Firm” predicts that by 2025 the UK will undergo “a profound transformation” with over 100,000 jobs in the legal sector having a high chance of being automated. The study estimates that more than 31,000 jobs in the legal job market have already been lost due to technology. However, the same study goes on to state that there has also been, and will continue to be, an overall increase in the number of legal jobs; most of which are higher skilled and better paid. Another Deloitte study from June 2016, focusing on global legal trends, identifies a legal services market that is growing, but also failing to meet market and client expectations for technology adoption, cross border integration, regulatory compliance, and use of value pricing. Both of these reports were published within the last year, however, critically before the events of Brexit (and Trump).

With Teresa May yet to trigger Article 50, Brexit is stalled. However, as it is likely to occur in some form in the near future, junior lawyers admitted both in the UK as well as in other EU countries but working in the UK or those with significant clients or practices focused in the UK should take the time to review its potential consequences. Although the nature and method of both the mechanism for Brexit and its likely outcomes are unclear, there are several key areas to which attention can already be given.

In October 2016, the Prime Minister proposed a “Great Repeal Bill”. Following the UK’s departure from the EU, this Bill would end the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA), which gives EU law primacy over UK law. All enactments previously in force in the UK under EU law would subsequently be reinstated. MPs would then go through each law on a piecemeal basis and amend or repeal them as necessary based upon national interests. This is intended to facilitate a smooth transition with respect to all EU laws.

You can read our other predictions for how Brexit will impact the careers of UK lawyers here:

Brexit and what it means for UK lawyers
Practice areas that will face threat and opportunity following Brexit
The impact of Brexit on UK lawyers’ rights to work in the EU
Will the primacy of English law remain for international contracts following Brexit

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