Brexit concerns push UK lawyers to register in Ireland

Nine per cent of all solicitors listed in Ireland are now lawyers from England and Wales

Books in the Law Library in the Four Courts Dublin. Photograph: David Sleator

More than 9 per cent of all solicitors listed in Ireland 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.

A further 75 solicitors from Northern Ireland 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 of Ireland, an industry body.

Before 2016, fewer than 100 English and Welsh solicitors typically joined the Irish roll each year, according to the Law Society.


Cautious lawyers have fuelled ‘phenomenon’

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 Ireland, 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 probe by the European Commission.

Ken Murphy, director-general of the Law Society in Ireland, 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 Ireland since the Brexit vote, even though two dozen London-based law firms have registered 10 or more solicitors from England and Wales in Ireland.

“Some of the large law firms we have spoken to have explicitly said they have no plans to do this,” he said.

Julian Acratopulo, a partner at Clifford Chance 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]\."

‘This puts in place a contingency’

Under current rules, solicitors who have qualified in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can undergo a two-step process to practise as solicitors in Ireland. 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 has registered the highest number of lawyers in Ireland 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 Hogan Lovells, which has registered more than 40 lawyers in Ireland 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 Ireland will not fully ease concerns 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