Chancery Lane sounds alarm over Canada-style free trade pact - which could require British lawyers wanting to practise in EU countries to live there and seek admission to local bars.

A post-Brexit free trade deal that mimics Canada’s pact with the EU could leave Britain’s £26bn legal services sector ‘high and dry’, the Law Society warns today.

EU leaders are expected formally to agree to start the next phase of Brexit negotiations later. But Chancery Lane warns that should the UK pursue a deal similar to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) - as has been mooted - legal services would be left out. 

CETA covers goods, financial services, cross-border supply of services through to areas like shared standards of manufacturing -  but not legal services.

Countries that participate in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) can include limits to the agreement’s scope. ’When it comes to legal services this means that lawyers wishing to practise in other jurisdictions may have to live in that country, register with the local bar and seek full admission to that bar,’ said Law Society president Joe Egan. ’If this happens to Britain’s relationship with the EU, then it will be a much more bureaucratic and inflexible model than we currently have, where lawyers can simply fly in and fly out to advise.’

Moreover, Egan stressed, FTAs do not typically cover areas such as co-operation over civil or criminal justice, or data protection.

Even where FTAs do include legal services, like the deal the EU has with South Korea, these can be restrictive. For example, EU law firms may offer domestic and international legal services in South Korea through joint ventures, but EU law firms’ share in the joint venture is limited to 49%.

The Society has also backed calls by the Commons Treasury Select Committee to agree to a ‘status quo’ transition period after the UK officially leaves the EU. The committee called this week for an implementation period during which the European Court of Justice would retain supremacy.

‘We have previously warned about the danger of a cliff-edge scenario for businesses and the courts,’ Egan said. ‘The cliff edge is there not once but twice, as the UK leaves the EU, and at the end of any future transition period. In this case, an implementation period is essential to help businesses and individuals understand their legal rights and responsibilities, particularly if a new customs regime is established.’