The impact of Brexit on UK lawyers’ rights to work in the EU

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

While not typically thought of as an export commodity, revenues from cross-border formed legal practices of UK firms make up a significant portion of the £32.1 billion generated by UK law firms.

Writing a five-part series on the legal ramifications of Brexit, Catherine Dixon stresses the importance of maintaining cross-border ties in a post-Brexit environment The Law Society website. Commenting on the ever evolving and globalized legal economy, Dixon points out that: “… as clients live increasingly international lives, the legal services they need cannot be bound by national borders. Whether dealing with the supplier for their business based in Bordeaux, custody arrangements for family members in Frankfurt or supporting employees in Eindhoven, solicitors are best able to serve their clients when they can serve them wherever they are.”

If the UK leaves the EU and does not remain an EEA or EFTA state, the loss of cross-border practice rights is a very real risk and could mean that UK lawyers no longer have the right to:

– Permanent establishment in other EU states (See. Lawyers Establishment Directive 98/5/EC)
– Advising clients in other EU states (See. Lawyers Services Directive 77/249/EC)
– Representing clients in EU tribunals or European courts in Luxembourg

In preparation for the potential manifestation of this worst case scenario, many of the UK’s largest law firms, including Freshfields, A&O and Slaughter & May have taken preventative action in registering staff in Ireland, which is currently an option for any UK-qualified lawyers. Andrew Renshaw, partner for Freshfields Brussels, put it simply: “If you want to get on an aeroplane out of London and go and give legal advice in an EU jurisdiction, there may be issues as to your ability to do that.”

However, as an inherent part of UK and EU economic and commercial interests, it is difficult to imagine a universal rejection of even the most basic cross-border practicing rights. Then again, we’ve all been surprised a few times already this year.

Whether the supremacy of the English law in large cross-border M&A and finance deals, and in COMI shifting in the context of restructuring, is maintained post-Brexit, remains to be seen. Treaty enforcement rights will be critical here.

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
The background to a post-Brexit legal jobs market
Practice areas that will face threat and opportunity following Brexit
Will the primacy of English law remain for international contracts following Brexit

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