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Brexit – the impact on lawyers, local councils and the UKs legal sector

by Leah Edgar | 19 February 2020

The United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union and we are now in a period of transition before we formally ‘break ties’ with our EU neighbours. During this time the UK government will be working to secure a trade deal with the EU that will safeguard our economic position and allow for a smooth transition for all involved. This however is where a great deal of uncertainty lies. Nobody knows what the next year will hold, and with the prospect of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit still on the table we could be in for a very bumpy ride.

The impact of Brexit on lawyers, law firms and legal practices will be significant. Many questions remain unanswered in the negotiations around the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and our future relationship with the EU. Many UK workers and sectors will likely have to adapt, legal being one of them.

As a business we work with legal professionals across the public and private sector, all of whom have been preparing for Brexit for some time. I spoke to several legal professionals currently working within local councils across the UK to get their views on Brexit, and to find out how it might impact their work, and the wider public sector.

The impact Brexit could have on legal talent  

Many of the lawyers I spoke to were not so much worried about Brexit impacting their roles but concerned about the impact it might have on the legal talent pool across the UK. The UK is blessed to have the second largest legal services market in the world and the largest within the EU, but this could all change if a sensible immigration policy is not introduced.

One lawyer I spoke to noted that in London, medium sized law firms are advertising for vacancies but are failing to confirm whether they wish to continue with applications. She believes this shows that law firms (and legal departments) are sitting on applications for a much longer period to monitor the current state of the market. This could have an adverse impact on the market. If legal talent is being made to wait around, we could lose them to other nations across Europe, reducing the legal talent pool here in the UK.

There is also a flip side to this. Without an adequate immigration policy legal talent from across the EU will no longer travel to the UK, again reducing our access to top-quality candidates. This in turn could impact our legal services sector greatly, something we must try to avoid at all costs.

The impact on local councils and local government

It is unclear what impact Brexit has had directly on councils, but whatever subsidies the UK government have been receiving from the EU to allocate to local councils, post Brexit this could potentially have serious consequences affecting certain services delivered by councils to their local communities. Currently Councils have already had their funding reduced from central government and local councils have had to find innovative ways of raising funds to keep up with the costs of delivering services to the local communities.

A shrinking economy would also place more pressure on local government. The potential for “No Deal” in a year’s time means that local authorities will have to keep planning for the implications of this. This particularly affects UDC as a port inspection authority. It will also have a major impact on some councils as there is still no clarity on EU workers’ rights and freedom of movement which will make workforce planning very difficult.

The need for certainty after Brexit

The biggest pain point that all the legal professionals I spoke to have is the uncertainty that still exists. Brexit will be the largest ever change to the UK’s legal framework, and the sector and the wider country must be ready to deal with those changes, and the transition period we are in needs to go some way to remove the uncertainty we are facing.

CILEX have argued that “at the point of exit and in the process of any prospective transition period, there should be absolute clarity as to what law is in effect".  The legal professionals I spoke to completely agreed. Throughout this transition period and beyond we need to be kept in the loop to ensure the smooth running of legal services. There are also questions being raised about contingency planning and what this is costing the sector. Many legal firms and departments are already spending a great deal of time and money planning for a situation that is yet unknown, and it is likely these plans will need to be put into effect before any real certainty arises, which could have a negative knock-on effect overall.

The need to take ‘No Deal Brexit’ off the table

There is also the very real fear of what a ‘No Deal’ Brexit will do to our economy and the legal sector overall and the uncertainty this promotes. The Law Society argued that ‘in the interests of legal certainty, it is imperative that a ‘No Deal’ scenario is avoided at all costs.’ A ‘No Deal’ scenario would have a significant impact on legal services.

Our current legal set-up means that UK and EU lawyers and law firms have the right to practice across the EU. Without a deal this could stop instantly, which would result in restrictions across Europe and limit practice, something that my clients and candidates have stressed we must try to avoid. Similarly, without a deal UK lawyers would lose the right to represent their clients in EU courts, something that could adversely impact many practicing legal professionals across the UK. This could mean closures of UK legal offices and would impact the UK’s bustling legal services sector for sure.

So, it is clear to see that the effect of Brexit could be significant. This the largest ever change to the UK’s legal sector which presents both opportunities and risks, but those opportunities will only present themselves if the process is managed successfully. For that reason, we need to call for some legal certainty as we move through this period of transition and look to the government to ensure we finish the year with a deal that works for the UK’s legal sector.

What next?

If you are worried about Brexit or have further input as to how it may impact the legal sector, please get in touch.

Alternatively, you can check out our latest legal jobs here