Lawyers in Ireland, as with lawyers everywhere, crave certainty. But there is no certainty concerning the effects of Brexit.
No one knows for sure what the political and economic consequences, short-, medium- and long-term, of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union will be either for Ireland or for anyone else.
But there is no shortage of wild speculation and opinion, sometimes well-informed but, more often, not. There is an emerging mini-industry, on both sides of the Irish Sea, that might not unreasonably be called ‘Brexit balderdash’.
Given the lack of certainty on the ‘big picture’, it is hardly surprising that there is difficulty distinguishing rumour from reality in relation to one of the small footnote issues that flows from the decision by a small majority of the voters in the UK to leave the EU to ‘take a leap into the dark’ as the then prime minister David Cameron phrased it.
The very small footnote issue to which I refer is the phenomenon whereby since 23 June 2016 (although in fact the trickle began a few weeks prior to that date) the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland has experienced a tsunami of England and Wales solicitors taking out, as they are perfectly entitled to do, an additional qualification here. The number of Brexit-driven new names on the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland now exceeds 1,100, of whom approximately 220 have, in addition, taken out practising certificates.
How many of those 1,100 have since travelled to Ireland – other than for a brief vacation? As far as the Law Society of Ireland is aware, the answer is none. Not one.
All the evidence that the Society has is that these England and Wales solicitors, almost without exception, are staying exactly where they are. And where they are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, is either London or Brussels.
They have come through the administrative process of entering their names on the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland, even in some cases have taken out practising certificates, for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with any intention to establish in this jurisdiction.
The motivation of most is to maximise their status as practitioners in EU and competition law matters, relating to such issues as right of audience in the European Court of Justice and the entitlement of their clients to legal privilege in EU investigations, in the post-Brexit world.
But what about the rumours of large international law firms establishing offices in Dublin? Only one firm, Pinsent Masons, has formally announced it has decided to do so.
Pinsent Masons has met with the Law Society of Ireland and indicated that it had been contemplating such an initiative even in advance of the Brexit vote, although that decision had raised the initiative up the firm’s agenda. It very openly disclosed its strategy (which had been followed when opening branch offices elsewhere) of recruiting local solicitors. Only a relatively small number of lawyers from outside the jurisdiction would transfer to its Irish branch office. Three Irish solicitor recruits for the new branch office were named in the Pinsent Masons news release of 12 June 2017.
Pinsent Masons has disclosed that it had researched the Irish legal market, including consulting, extensively with its existing Irish and international clients. It was focused on commercial transaction work in such vibrant fields of business activity in Ireland as financial services and information technology. It recognised that the market for commercial legal services in Ireland was mature, sophisticated and well served by the Irish law firms that it respected and had longstanding relationships with. Nevertheless, it saw opportunities for Pinsent Masons.
So, reality can replace rumour in relation to at least one firm’s intentions. Given the vigour and variety of rumours a year ago, it is perhaps surprising that only one firm has made such an announcement. But of course there will always be rumours.
Ken Murphy is director general of the Law Society of Ireland