Apparently not, as numerous individual lawyers point out that while there may be short-term profit in the initial Brexit confusion, the long-term outlook would not be so rosy.
The Financial Times, on 20 January, released an article on their front page claiming that UK lawyers were preparing for a ’Brexit bonanza’ as companies are rushing to them for advice on Brexit’s implications for tax, employment, financial regulation, intellectual property and company law.
Major UK law firms have set up special task forces to provide answers, and clients are apparently beginning to pay in greater numbers for guidance. Simon Gleeson, a financial regulation partner at Clifford Chance, is quoted as saying: ’You know people are starting to take something seriously when they start spending money on it, and we’re starting to see that’.
Yet the view of the profession seems far from set. Just two days after the above article, the same paper released another piece reporting that 300 senior lawyers, led by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner John Davies, had established a pro-EU group by the name of ‘Lawyers – In For Britain’. They are joined by a youth wing of 38 members.
While the profession has a tradition of not commenting on political issue, the lawyers in the group feel that ’the UK’s economic future and security is better protected as being part of the European Union’.
There are good reasons for a cautious approach to Brexit from lawyers, aside from the fact that firms have clients on either side of the debate. The Law Society of England and Wales published a report in October 2015 (‘The EU and the Legal Sector’), in which it made three key findings:
- Legal services would be disadvantaged disproportionately compared with the UK economy as a whole.
- The stronger negative effects on the legal services sector are due to the sector’s reliance on intermediate demand from sectors which are likely to be adversely affected by a UK withdrawal from the EU, particularly the financial services sector and other professional services, and from the subsequent lower levels of business investment.
- The scale of the impact would depend on economic drivers shaped by the UK’s withdrawal negotiations and subsequent UK government policy actions.
It has also been pointed out that UK lawyers may also face greater difficulties in establishing practices in the EU due to the Directives on temporary provision of services and permanent establishment being (presumably) affected. Those Directives allow solicitors to, as the Law Society Gazette puts it, ’cross borders temporarily or permanently under our home title, and to practise everywhere and do practically everything in the EU’. The Directive on professional qualifications, and several Court of Justice decisions, also allow for access to the professional title of other Member States ’on the easiest of terms’.
Most commentators appear to give the ultimate lawyer’s response, however, to the question of Brexit’s effect on the legal profession: it depends. Like any good lawyer, one should first consider definitions: what does ‘Brexit’ mean? If it means continued access to the single market on the same terms as now, then many of the dangers highlighted by the Law Society could be averted. Yet if Brexit means an acrimonious separation involving tit-for-tat cutting of trade privileges, then the future looks far from rosy.