Brexit is pushing solicitors in England and Wales to register in Ireland. Some 1,000 have signed up in the year since the EU referendum, at least 10 times the regular annual number.
As reported by The Financial Times, the registration rush has been led by competition lawyers who fear losing their ability to represent clients — known as the right of audience — at the European Court of Justice after Brexit.
The UK’s departure from the EU could also have serious implications for the status of legal professional privilege, the confidentiality of communications between clients and their lawyers.
At present, if Brussels investigates a company for alleged anti-competitive practices, such as price-fixing or monopoly activity, communications with lawyers who are not qualified in a country within the European Economic Area are not protected. In the event of a “hard Brexit”, it is feared that UK-based lawyers would fall foul of the privilege rules, meaning the European Commission would be able to read their advice to clients.
Losing these rights would place UK-based legal firms at a significant disadvantage to rivals within the EU and could cost them some highly lucrative work.
Ken Murphy, director-general of the Law Society of Ireland, said that was “a big concern” for those solicitors.
According to the Law Society of England and Wales, it is “crucial” for firms operating internationally to be able to represent clients in different courts.
“Our members, both individuals and law firms, are going through their contingency planning as there is still a lot of uncertainty over Brexit,” said Mickael Laurans, head of international at the Law Society.
“One potential impact is losing rights of audience and legal professional privilege if the European Commission launches a cartel or competition case.”