European lawyers will no longer be fast-tracked into the England and Wales system after next March in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the SRA suggested today.  The regulator said it was likely that if the UK and European Union cannot agree terms then there would be no new registrations of registered European lawyers (RELs) as of exit day. 

Around 700 RELs in England and Wales are currently allowed to provide the full range of legal services on a permanent basis. This includes the right to provide reserved legal services and to work as sole practitioners. 

But the UK’s decision to leave the EU means the system is likely to end, with European lawyers forced to take the same route to entry as those from outside the union. 

In the no-deal scenario, the SRA says those registered with it as RELs by exit day will be able to continue to practise until the end of December 2020. Those whose application is still being processed on March 29 can practise in England and Wales if the decision comes after that date. 

Once the transition period has begun, European lawyers looking to provide legal services here will have to seek admittance under an alternative route. They can access the qualifying lawyer transfer scheme and eventually take the new solicitors qualifying examination, which will be introduced at the earliest in autumn 2020. 

The clarification comes after the government published a technical notice outlining how professions and service sectors will function in the event of no deal. These arrangements are specifically for the transition period lasting to the end of December 2020  

The SRA will write directly to all the RELs it regulates to set out the information available, possible implications and the options open to them. 

A spokesman for the regulator added: ‘We are committed to working closely with government to understand the impact of leaving the EU on how we regulate solicitors, registered European lawyers (RELs), and law firms in England and Wales.  We will continue to work with government and other interested parties to make sure any changes are managed as smoothly and effectively as possible both for the profession and the people who use the services of RELs.’

The Law Society warned of the impact on small firms. 'This will cause firms a significant amount of expense to find work arounds and, with tight margins, small and medium sized firms that employ EEA lawyers will struggle most to adapt,' said Society president Christina Blacklaws. 'If they employ EEA lawyers, then these may have to requalify and that’s just one of the hoops. However, we welcome the commitment to having a transition period to allow EEA lawyers the time to do this.'

Blacklaws added that the notice does not provide any answers for UK lawyers in the EU who could face different barriers in each of the 30 EU/EEA countries. 'That’s why we continue to call on the government to put mutual market access at the heart of its Brexit priorities. Legal services are one of Britain’s greatest exports – it’s worth almost £30bn annually to the UK economy and one of its key requirements is to be able to recruit talent internationally and support businesses in the UK and EU.'