No Deal: Ireland Closes the EU Backdoor for England & Wales based Solicitors

December 9, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

The Law Society of Ireland has announced that solicitors based in England and Wales who hold Irish qualifications will no longer be entitled to practicing certificates, unless intending to work in the Republic.

What does this mean?

Ahead of Brexit, the Law Society of Ireland conducted a review of the framework for issuing practising certificates to lawyers based outside of the jurisdiction. The solicitors’ body highlighted how issuing practising certificates to solicitors outside the jurisdiction “may create the erroneous impression” that the Society governs practice outside the Republic. By taking this firm stance, the Society is making clear that such practice is not permitted. The announcement excluded solicitors in Northern Ireland, where long-standing protocols allow solicitors to practise in both countries. 

Since 2016, record numbers of UK qualified solicitors have obtained practicing certificates in Ireland. Brexit was the reason for this sudden surge in popularity, as lawyers invested in certifications to hold on to the right of audience before EU tribunals such as the Court of Justice of the European Union. This right is only extended to lawyers qualified in an EU state. Among the masses flocking to Ireland for practicing certificates are lawyers from City firms including Linklaters, Eversheds Sutherland, Freshfields, Latham & Watkins and Slaughter and May. At the end of 2019, Allen and Overy had over 200 solicitors with practicing certificates from the Law Society of Ireland. Despite having the 7th highest number of solicitors registered to practice in  the Republic, Allen and Overy have no Irish offices.

What's the big picture effect?

This move sends a clear message that Ireland will not act as a backdoor for England and Wales based solicitors to work in the EU. Unsurprisingly, the announcement was met with disappointment by the Law Society of England and Wales. David Greene, President of the Society, insisted that “The Law Society of Ireland has for years issued practising certificates to the many Irish solicitors based in England and Wales, whether their first qualification is the Republic of Ireland or whether they are UK lawyers who have requalified in Ireland.”

As the only English speaking common law jurisdiction left in the EU, Ireland is a key location for firms focused on a post Brexit world. Currently no ‘magic circle’ firm has offices in Ireland.  UK firms with an Irish presence include DLA Piper and Pinsent Masons. Fieldfisher merged with Dublin-based McDowell Purcell in 2019. A new addition to the Irish legal scene is Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, who launched in Dublin in September 2020. Global CEO of Dentons Elliott Portnoy, identified Dublin as a “priority market” for many clients due to the city’s reputation as a hub for aviation finance, European financial services and the technology industry. Meanwhile, Irish firms with London offices, such as Arthur Cox, McCann Fitzgerald and Matheson will retain access to both the UK and EU post transition.

Ireland occupies a unique role in the post Brexit legal landscape. Many will hope that Dublin’s growing legal market will follow the success of its established technology hub. Attracted by Ireland’s competitive tax environment and highly skilled workforce, the arrival of big tech giants, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and TikTok, has created a hotbed for innovation and has acted as a magnet for tech start-ups.

Only time will tell if Ireland’s legal industry will enjoy the same expansion as its technology sector. As trade negotiations continue and many elements of Brexit remain unclear, one thing is for certain. Solicitors seeking to use Ireland as a convenient route to the EU are facing a no deal exit.

Report written by Emily Cahill

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