Covid lockdowns have delayed the full impact of Brexit on the legal sector, the Law Society has warned, as international travel tentatively begins to open up.
Marco Cillario, an international policy adviser at the Law Society, said that ‘the process of understanding what Brexit actually means has been slower than it would have been if people had been travelling’.
‘In many respects for the sector, Brexit hasn’t happened yet. Some firms have had to make arrangements for their European offices but, when it comes to individual lawyers travelling, we don’t know the full extent of how the end of freedom of movement will impact the sector practically. It’s likely that it will have a huge impact.’
Jonathan Goldsmith, a Law Society Council member for EU matters, said that younger lawyers are more likely to be affected than those with established practices in Europe. ‘The people who are going to lose out are the younger generation, the people who are not based in the country but who would like to work there, who would like to have a European practice.’
Most of the lawyers who had already settled in Europe ‘were able to make their own arrangements to ensure that they stayed on without too much problem,’ Goldsmith added. However, he stressed that the position for solicitors based in Britain with a European practice is far less straighforward.
Last month, the Law Society published extensive guidance for solicitors travelling to the EU on business following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020. It says that firms should consider immigration requirements, their practising rights depending on the relevant regulatory framework, and taxation and costs before attempting to work abroad.
However, many questions remain unanswered. One issue that is likely to come to a head is around Irish practising certificates. In November, the Law Society of Ireland announced that solicitors will not be entitled to Irish practising certificates unless they have a presence in the republic, thwarting the plans of England and Wales-qualified solicitors who invested in Irish certificates in order to protect their EU practising rights.
The practising rights of solicitors who have qualified in Ireland but who have not taken out a practising certificate remain unclear.
Some progress has been made. In May, France confirmed that UK solicitors based in Paris can continue advising on English and international law in the wake of Brexit as 'foreign legal consultants'. Meanwhile, recent legislative reform in Germany promises to help UK LLPs continue to operate in the country.