27 Jun 2022

UK law societies' Brussels office to close in response to Brexit

Move blamed on falling workload now UK has third country status with EU

Flags in front of the headquarters of the European Commission

The European Commission building in Brussels Xavier Lejeune Photo/Shutterstock

The joint Brussels office of the UK's three law societies is to close in November in a move being put down to falling workload in the aftermath of Brexit.

Opened in 1991, the office monitors EU policy and legislative developments and helps represent the profession to the EU.

It is operated by the Law Society of England and Wales with the Law Society of Scotland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland contributing to its running costs.

The decision to close the office was revealed by Law Society of England and Wales past president David Greene, who wrote in a message on LinkedIn this morning: “I was truly sorry to hear that the Law Society is closing the Brussels office in a post Brexit move.” 

The unit, which currently has four staff, was instrumental in informing City of London solicitors and the wider professions on the impact of Brexit on their practice rights and the development of post-Brexit EU law.

It also lobbied for the professions with EU institutions as the UK transitioned out of the bloc, and advised on the subsequent 2020 Trade and Cooperation Agreement and associated Northern Ireland Protocol agreed by the UK government with the EU, which took effect in January 2021. 

A spokesperson for the Law Society of England and Wales acknowledged the importance of the office's role during the Brexit process, but said it was no longer viable now the UK has exited the EU.

“Post-Brexit and post-transition period…. the UK has third country status and is treated by the EU as any other non-member state, meaning the workload has fallen for our Brussels team and the workload of our international team at Chancery Lane has increased as the UK seeks trade deals with countries outside the bloc. Our bilateral relations with European jurisdictions were always run from our London team and remain an absolute priority for our international engagement.

“The nature of the UK-EU trade agreement means that the need for a presence in Brussels to be close to the EU institutions is reduced, while the relatively high fixed costs of the office mean a smaller Brussels team would not be economically viable."

The office is led by Helena Raulus and includes three policy advisers. It also used to take on two trainee solicitors on secondment from firms across the UK every September and March for six months, forming a pool of alumni much sought after by UK firms practising in Brussels. However, that scheme ended earlier this year due to difficulties in obtaining work and residency permits post-Brexit.

In his LinkedIn post, Greene described the office as “a jewel in the crown of [the Law Society’s] offering" and said the team “will be sorely missed”.

Becket McGrath, a partner at London and Brussels competition law boutique Euclid Law, described the closure as a “sad and disappointing development”.

He added: "This also seems short-sighted, as hopefully, over time, the political climate will change and European service markets will reopen again. We will have lost an important voice in that process."

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