The Law Society of Ireland Shutterstock; David Soanes
The Law Society of England and Wales has expressed ‘huge disappointment’ at a decision to prevent thousands of its lawyers from practising Irish, and by extension, EU law.
More than 4,000 England and Wales-qualified solicitors had successfully gained admission to the Irish Roll of Solicitors since the Brexit vote in 2016 in the hope it would allow them to continue to advise clients on EU law with the benefit of legal professional privilege.
Yesterday, however, the Law Society of Ireland announced that solicitors on its roll will need to physically practise in Ireland – or demonstrate that they intend to do so – in order to obtain an Irish practising certificate.
The Law Society of England and Wales said the decision would be "a huge disappointment to the many solicitors in England and Wales who requalified in line with the long-established process in order to continue advising clients on EU law with the benefit of privilege after 31 December".
The society’s president, David Greene, added that it was “very disappointing” the society wasn’t consulted over the announcement as it “would have expected to learn of any proposed changes in advance and formally”.
Consultant Alison Hook, of Hook Tangaza, said the decision confirmed a “known direction of travel” which was unsurprising, citing pressures on the Law Society of Ireland from other EU jurisdictions not to become a ‘backdoor’ jurisdiction for England and Wales solicitors after Brexit.
She added that while law firms might have hoped that English solicitors could practise EU law with their dual qualification, it was “not unreasonable for the Law Society of Ireland to ask for some genuine connection with their jurisdiction”.
Several UK law firms have opened offices in Dublin in recent years – including Kennedys, DAC Beachcroft, DLA Piper, Pinsent Masons, Simmons & Simmons and Fieldfisher – but Hook questioned whether it would make economic sense for firms to open there simply in order to obtain EU access.
By contrast, EU-based law firms with offices in London, including Arthur Cox and McCann Fitzgerald, will keep nearly unfettered access to UK and EU legal markets post-transition.
Hook said the move was “a sign of things to come for UK lawyers,”, noting “it will be a very long haul to get back even some ability to practise freely in some EU jurisdictions”.
Negotiations on an UK-EU trade deal, including mutual recognition of professional qualifications and practise rights, are ongoing; meanwhile, the Law Society of England and Wales urged solicitors to prepare for a potential ‘no-deal’ scenario, in a subsequent practice note.
This week's announcement on Irish practise rights explicitly excluded solicitors in Northern Ireland, where long-standing protocols apply, allowing solicitors to practise in both countries. It was silent on the status of Scottish solicitors.
Last year, a record 1,817 solicitors from England and Wales had their names entered on the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland, with Allen & Overy, Linklaters and Eversheds Sutherland admitting the most lawyers.