A country-by-country analysis of the most important restrictions and requirements imposed by EU and EFTA countries on third country lawyers and law firms. 

The EU’s single market provides English and Welsh lawyers and law firms with a uniform, well-integrated and fully functioning market for legal services in which they can freely and automatically practise and establish themselves.

The UK is the largest market for legal services in Europe with 20.3 per cent of the total European Market and accounts for around 7 percent of the global market for legal services. It therefore serves as the European hub for UK legal services while many foreign, in particular US firms, have also established in London or within the EU as English LLPs.

In addition, in 2015, a total of 1,349 Practising Certificate (PC) holders reported their main practising office to be in an EU country outside of the UK (1 percent of all PC holders). UK law firms are established in 26 out of the 31 EU/EFTA countries operating a total of 290 offices (1.9 percent of the total number of offices opened).

The EU’s single market for legal services is facilitated by the current framework of EU Directives (the Lawyers’ Services Directive 77/249/EEC ; Lawyers’ Establishment Directive 98/5/EC ; Professional Qualifications Directive 2005/36 (revised in 2013) ; and the Framework Services Directive 2006/123/EC ) that apply across the EU, EEA and Switzerland, and grants UK lawyers and law firms the rights to freely:

  • provide services on a temporary basis (FIFO service)
  • practise as a solicitor on a permanent basis
  • give advice on English, EU and international law as well as on host state law
  • appear in national (and European) courts in conjunction with a local lawyer
  • requalify without an equivalent examination after three years of practising host state law
  • set up a branch using the firm’s original title or use one of the legal forms of the EU member state to set up a new entity.

Anything less than full access to the single market (or equivalent) would not provide the same level of access for professional service firms. Law firms and lawyers would not have the same rights to operate across borders and would face additional restrictions on their activities.

If there are no alternative or transitional arrangements in place, the UK is likely to fall back onto WTO arrangements under trade in legal services which entail more than 30 different regimes depending on each EU or EFTA country - many of which impose a great number of restrictions and limit practice rights for third country lawyers and law firms.

Potential consequences vary from country to country and include inability to requalify in EU/EFTA countries and thus the inability to practise local law (and/or EU law). Third country lawyers will not be able to partner with local lawyers or to invest in EU/EFTA law firms, for instance.

 We completed a country-by-country analysis of the most important restrictions and requirements imposed by EU and EFTA countries on third country (non-EU/EFTA) lawyers and law firms.

Please contact us for more information.