Freshfields, A&O and Slaughters lawyers register in Ireland as Brexit fears mount

17 / 06 / 2016


UK-qualified lawyers apply to join Irish roll of solicitors to obtain European rights ahead of Brexit vote

Lawyers at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Slaughter and May, Allen & Overy (A&O) and Hogan Lovells have applied to join the roll of solicitors in the Republic of Ireland ahead of the UK’s EU referendum next week.

Legal Week has learnt that some UK qualified lawyers are applying to the Law Society of Ireland amid fears they may find it more difficult to practise EU law in the event of Brexit if they are not registered in an EU country.

It is understood that Slaughters has already funded one of its Brussels-based competition partners to join the Irish roll and acquire a local practising certificate.

Additionally, some Freshfields, A&O and Hogan Lovells lawyers – both associates and partners – have completed the first stage of the process to join the roll in Ireland before the referendum vote on 23 June.

It is understood that these firms are funding UK qualified lawyers from multiple practice areas to resister in Ireland, though a large proportion of the Freshfields candidates come from its competition practices in London and Brussels.

Some Ashurst lawyers are also considering registering in Ireland, which is open to any UK-qualified lawyers or lawyers who subsequently qualified in the UK and now have three years’ post qualification experience (PQE) here. The process entails a one-off charge of €300 (£237) to be admitted to the roll as well as an annual cost of roughly €2,000 (£1,614) to qualify as a practising solicitor.

If you want to get on an aeroplane out of London and go and give legal advice in an EU jurisdiction there may be issues

Slaughters Brussels competition partner John Boyce said: “These possible concerns are relevant not just in Brussels but also to lawyers practising EU law in London. I know we’ve got one lawyer from Northern Ireland who has already been admitted to the roll.”

A Hogan Lovells spokesperson said: “We are considering applying to the Irish roll for a number of our lawyers as part of our contingency planning.”

UK qualified competition lawyers are particularly concerned about a possible EU exit as it could mean losing their rights to EU professional legal privilege and the right to plead before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Lawyers fear that EU privilege over communications between EU lawyers and their clients might cease to apply to UK lawyers in the event of a vote in favour of Brexit.

Freshfields Brussels competition partner Andrew Renshaw, who is also a member of the “Lawyers – In for Britain” campaign, said: “To put it at its simplest: if you want to get on an aeroplane out of London and go and give legal advice in an EU jurisdiction there may be issues as to your ability to do that. It will all depend on what gets negotiated.”

He added: “I am sure the majority of UK competition partners and associates are looking into it. Most of the English partners at law firms that I know of in Brussels (including myself) are definitely looking at it.”

However, Slaughters is biding its time before putting other lawyers forward.

“I think it is unnecessary in the short term,” said Boyce. “We shall wait and see how it goes. It would be one of the options we would consider, depending on the trade deal the UK negotiates if we exit the EU.”

Boyce added that even though some lawyers have already reached the first stage of the application in Ireland, they could face a hike in annual fees should they proceed with the process to become a practising lawyer and the UK votes to leave the EU.

If the UK were to leave the EU, it would be open to the Law Society of Ireland to discriminate against non-EU nationals

“If the UK were to leave the EU, it would be open to the Law Society of Ireland to discriminate against non-EU nationals and charge a higher fee than payable by Irish or other EU nationals – including for UK nationals who had been admitted before the referendum,” he said.

Others argue that it is a sensible move to begin the process before the EU referendum.

“I think the concern is that if we vote out, the Law Society of Ireland will be absolutely swamped overnight,” said Oliver Bretz, founding partner of Brussels firm Euclid Law and former global competition head at Clifford Chance. “I suspect it is a very prudent and sensible decision for any firm because it shows they’ve thought about it and found a solution.”

There are a number of people that give advice to clients in the EU that are trying to protect their ability to do so through the Irish qualification route

Lawyers from other practice areas are also likely to be investigating the process.

Renshaw said that competition lawyers are “not a special group”. He added: “There are a number of people who give advice to clients in the EU that are trying to protect their ability to do so through the Irish qualification route.”

Boyce suggested that trade law and financial services would be other areas where clients would require advice from an EU qualified lawyer. He also said it would be “a real potential issue” for the specialist barristers in London who regularly plead before the courts in Luxembourg.

Out of the UK’s top 10 law firms by revenue contacted by Legal Week, CMS Cameron McKenna and DLA Piper are not currently considering funding UK qualified lawyers to apply for the roll.

Clifford Chance declined to comment specifically but London managing partner David Bickerton said: “As clients’ needs change, we change our delivery model.”

Linklaters, Herbert Smith Freehills and Norton Rose Fulbright did not respond to requests for comment.

The Law Society of Ireland declined to comment.

Anna Ward