There is little more than a month left for the United Kingdom to withdraw from all European institutions, after the end of the transition period. Brexit will begin to be a reality from December 31, 2020 and, at this point, it is not clear if London and Brussels will finally arrive in time to seal a trade agreement that will alleviate the effects of divorce in the different economic sectors, including legal. The outcome of the negotiations will be decisive in defining the situation in which the Spanish lawyers operating in British territory will remain.
Currently, three European directives allow any lawyer qualified in an EU Member State to practice and establish his business permanently on the other side of the English Channel. The interested party only needs to register in the Law Society (the British regulator of legal activities) to obtain a European legal license with which you can advise on all kinds of matters and litigate before the courts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, except before the Supreme Court. However, as of January, this regulation will automatically cease to apply.
According to international lawyer Miriam González, there is still room for the parties to articulate some type of transitional regime, “although it is clear that things will not be as they have been before and all lawyers operating in the United Kingdom will have to adapt to a legal framework that will gradually distance itself from the European ”.
León Fernando del Canto, a barrister in London for 20 years, doubts that the Brexit negotiations will go ahead and much more that they include a moratorium on the current professional freedom. From his point of view, it is most likely that, with the entry of the new year, Spanish lawyers will be at the same level as those from other third countries. “Although no one is going to kick them out, they must be enabled under one of the formulas provided by British law if they want to continue working,” he remarks.
In a worst-case scenario, stakeholders would have to start from scratch and basically have three options. The first would be to register as a foreign lawyer (Registered Foreign Lawyer), a category that limits the exercise exclusively to advice on the law of the country of origin.
They could also take a year-long bridging course, in which the basic subjects of English law are studied, and pass an exam to be a trial lawyer (barrister) or not litigant (solicitor). Finally, it would be possible to work in a firm under the supervision of another licensed attorney (paralegal).
González estimates that the impact that a non-consensual break would have would be rather limited among Spanish lawyers residing in Great Britain, taking into account that “the vast majority work in large law firms in the City Londoner and are not really practicing in court, but rather offering business services. In other words, “there are very few who would be forced to enroll as solicitors o barristers”.
A point of view shared by Del Canto, who confirms that there are just over 50 Spaniards who are currently engaged in English law in London and almost all of them have already taken measures to continue operating after Brexit. However, he warns that the British regulator “is very strict” and will carry out controls to verify that “no foreign worker exceeds his functions.” In this sense, he explains, it will no longer be possible to share files with other colleagues from the EU or work for offices with headquarters in a country of the EU bloc. In addition, it will be mandatory to take out a civil liability insurance to cover any compensation for malpractice.
The experts consulted also coincide in pointing out that, regardless of whether or not there is a commercial agreement in extremis, bureaucratic requirements will be increased for those lawyers who travel to the United Kingdom on time. Specifically, they must apply for a special visa, inform the authorities of the reason for their visit, and go through customs in order to pay the corresponding taxes. “Of course, it will not be so easy to do business here,” Del Canto says.
- Impact. The United Kingdom Bar Association (Law Society) estimates, in a recent report, that a no-deal Brexit would reduce the income of the British legal sector by 3.5 billion pounds (10% compared to 2019) and would put 10,000 jobs at risk direct.
- Business volume. The UK is the largest exporter of legal services in Europe. According to the Office for National Statistics, the sector contributed 27.9 billion pounds to the British economy last year, equivalent to 1.4% of gross domestic product (GDP).
- Vulnerability. The Law Society study points out that law firms specializing in technology and intellectual property matters are especially vulnerable to a no-deal Brexit, as British trademarks would no longer be recognized as such in the EU after divorce.
- The slam of Ireland. Thousands of British lawyers have registered in Ireland to protect their exercise rights in the EU. Specifically, according to the Law Society Gazette, lawyers from England and Wales already represent about 14% of the total number of registered in the Irish bar association. However, the institution clarified at the end of October that it will only grant a license to those professionals who have their headquarters in the republic.