Despite the ongoing uncertainty, solicitors could make money out of the leave vote.
And now, with the end of the summer break, the fun begins.
The serious arguments start about what the Brexit vote actually means (for instance, the Cabinet’s effort to work out whether voters were expressing a wish to leave just the EU or also the single market, or maybe just a part of it; the courts’ efforts to settle whether the government can trigger the Article 50 process on its own, or whether that poor overlooked institution called parliament must be involved).
It is a suitable time also to see how lawyers are faring.
So far, so good. If you look at the proliferating Brexit pages on the big law firms’ websites, it is clear that Brexit will provide excellent legal business for years to come.
I think there is indeed money to be made by someone in compiling a rating system for the information provided – a good Brexit guide, so that befuddled British businesses can know which is the most informative place to go for the answers to their complicated legal questions.
The pages are free to view and cover the expected areas like employment law, financial services, real estate, pensions, intellectual property law, and the use of English governing law in cross-border commercial contracts. Do they contradict each other? Do some omit chunks of significant law, and others make mistakes?
I have neither the time nor the legal expertise to crawl through the screeds of information. But I can tell you which one covers Brexit and climate change (Clifford Chance), or Brexit and energy (Herbert Smith). Mind you, much of the information is of the ‘we cannot say exactly what the impact will be, since it depends which model is chosen’ variety.
Even I, an ignorant non-expert, could have written that. In other words, the British people have spoken, but what exactly have they said? Doubtless, as we find out which part of the Tory party gains the upper hand, and therefore which model of independence we have really voted for, the guides will become more useful.
This positive news applies to lawyers in the UK. But what about UK lawyers and law firms in Brussels, one of whose principal areas is lobbying? Here the news may not be so good. There are continuing reports in the press about how the influence of Brits has fallen off a cliff in Brussels, so that even EU-wide lobbying companies don’t want to recruit a Brit because it doesn’t look good any more.
Who will listen seriously to a national of a country that has voted to leave? There are reports, too, that British businesses don’t want to be represented by British lobbyists, because they think that their chances are improved by continental lobbyist representatives.
There is the same rush in Brussels by UK nationals for foreign passports, as seen in the UK itself. Those I have spoken to who can’t claim a foreign granny are opting for Belgian nationality (five years’ residence, the ability to speak French, Flemish or German, and evidence of integration). Is this the first time in our history that British people have so desperately sought a non-British citizenship?
I don’t believe that the impact on British law firms, if any, will be long-term. After all, there have been American law firms lobbying in Brussels with great success for decades, and their jurisdiction is not a member. This is a blip caused by the shock of the vote. It will wear off.
I also think that, once the negotiations are over, we will not see any impact on the ability of UK law firms to do business in Brussels (and probably elsewhere in the EU). Strictly, the answer depends on the outcome of the single market deal. But it is inconceivable at present that established law firms will be chucked out – just as EU and UK nationals will almost certainly not be told to leave wherever they have settled.
The American example is again useful: there are US law firms in all the big EU commercial centres, and the relevant bars have already come to arrangements regarding a non-EU presence.
In the immediate aftermath of the vote, the current president of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) issued a statement, headed ‘Confraternity’. It expressed a sentiment which reflects the likely future for lawyers: ‘Whatever happens, the UK remains geographically linked to Europe.
‘This vote must not mark the sunset of the European project, or beyond that, the end of a particular idea of civilisation. For us at the CCBE, this does not change anything. British lawyers remain, regardless of a vote, our colleagues. Confraternity is a professional and personal friendship that cannot be altered.
‘We will always find adequate solutions so that our British colleagues will have their rightful place within the CCBE.’
Jonathan Goldsmith is a consultant and former secretary-general at the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs