More than 9 per cent of all solicitors listed in the Republic are now lawyers from England and Wales, many of whom rushed to register after the UK voted to leave the EU.
Since the beginning of 2016, 1,644 English and Welsh solicitors have joined the Irish Roll of Solicitors, which currently has 18,110 names on its register. Only 186 signed up in the first six months of 2016. The UK voted to leave the EU on June 23rd.
A further 75 solicitors from the North have been admitted to the list since the start of 2016, and 106 applications from English and Welsh solicitors are being processed, according to the Law Society.
Before 2016, fewer than 100 English and Welsh solicitors typically joined the Irish roll each year, according to the Law Society.
Lawyers in England and Wales, particularly those working for global law firms in areas such as antitrust, fear losing the right to represent clients in European courts after the UK leaves the EU next March.
Solicitors believe that by registering in the Republic, they will be more likely to be able to represent clients in legal cases being heard before the European Court of Justice, as well as professional privilege over any communications with their clients in the event of a regulatory investigation by the European Commission.
Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, said: "It's been quite a phenomenon. I think lawyers are being cautious and practical, looking around corners and preparing the ground to keep their options open."
But he added that only a handful of law firms had opened new offices in the State since the Brexit vote, even though two dozen London-based law firms have registered 10 or more solicitors from England and Wales.
“Some of the large law firms we have spoken to have explicitly said they have no plans to do this,” he said.
Flow of rights
Julian Acratopulo, a partner at Clifford Chance in London who is president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association, said: "It remains to be seen how this will play out in practice, but these rights for solicitors are thought to flow from the professional admission to the roll and adhering to the ethical obligations rather than from having a physical presence [in Ireland]."
Under current rules, solicitors who have qualified in England, Wales and the North can undergo a two-step process to practise as solicitors in the Republic. Registering on the Roll of Solicitors is the first step. But to work, solicitors must also obtain a “practising certificate” from the Law Society, and just a few hundred solicitors from the UK have done so.
According to the Law Society, Eversheds Sutherland, which has a Dublin office, has registered the highest number of lawyers in the Republic since the start of 2016, with 132 solicitors added to the list. Freshfields has registered 131 solicitors, while Slaughter and May has transferred 98 lawyers.
Charles Brasted, head of public law and policy practice at London firm Hogan Lovells, which has registered more than 40 lawyers in the Republic since the beginning of 2016, said the move was sensible.
“There is a lot of uncertainty, and this puts in place a contingency in case of a disorderly withdrawal without a transition deal,” he said. “It means law firms can continue to do what they need to do.”
Some lawyers say that registering in the Republic will not fully ease concerns in England that clients will increasingly turn to using EU law instead of English law in their business contracts after Brexit. Worries remain that global firms will prefer to fight business disputes in EU courts, where they can appeal against any decision to the European Court of Justice, and there is still uncertainty about whether London court rulings will be enforceable across other EU countries after Brexit.
Others argue that London will remain a top centre for litigation after the UK leaves the EU next March.
“If the only thing that London had going for it was that it was part of the EU, it wouldn’t have done as well as it has,” said Mr Brasted. “English law remains the predominant choice governing company contracts and there are a lot of factors London has in its favour.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018