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No deal post Brexit could be devastating for UK's valuable legal sector

23 March 2017

The UK's £25.7bn legal sector needs a deal from Brexit negotiations that ensures reciprocal arrangements so our lawyers can still practise in EU countries and EU lawyers in the UK - otherwise a significant part of Britain's economy will be put under threat, the Law Society said today.

Responding to a report by the EU Lords Internal Market Sub Committee, Law Society president Robert Bourns said: "As our experts told peers in evidence, 36 of the top 50 UK law firms have at least one office in another EU member state. And UK law firms have a presence in 25 of 27 EU member states.

"Current arrangements under two EU directives are also key in attracting law firms from non-EU states to set up shop in the UK. They do this in part so they can get access to the EU market.

"The Law Society estimates there are more than 200 foreign-owned law firms in London, including 100 US firms, which might consider seeking a new 'European hub' location if they cease to be allowed access and are denied establishment rights across the EU. This is an extremely big deal for UK PLC.

"At present global access to legal services is extremely restricted. Building barriers to market access to the EU would have a significant impact.

"'No deal' would raise the prospect of the UK having to negotiate with 27 individual markets and while the mooted Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) could improve transparency it would not be a liberalisation of market access for legal services."

The peers' report indicates a 'no deal' scenario would leave law firms and others in the professional and business services (PBS) sectors such as accounting facing new barriers to trade in the EU.

"We endorse the committee's conclusions that the government should ensure any UK-EU free trade agreement includes provisions on mutual recognition of professional qualifications and regulatory structures," said Robert Bourns.

"Negotiators should seek to include provisions on the rights of UK businesses to establish themselves in the EU and full weight should be given to the benefits of professional services companies recruiting from the EU."

Notes to editors

The Law Society has done extensive work on the impact of Brexit on the legal sector - more information can be found in our report Brexit and the law.

See all our information on Brexit and the legal sector.

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Ben Davies | ben.davies@lawsociety.org.uk | +44 (0)20 7316 5592