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Free trade deals have their limits, Law Society warns

15 December 2017

A post-Brexit free trade deal could leave Britain’s crucial legal services sector high and dry, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today.

“Now the starting gun has been fired for negotiations over the UK withdrawal from Europe, one option is a deal that mimics the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA),” said Law Society president Joe Egan said.

“A free trade agreement (FTA) could include legal services – like the deal the EU has with South Korea – though even that has its limits.

“But if CETA is the model, then legal services – worth more than £25.7bn to the UK economy – would be left out.

“The inevitable reintroduction of trade barriers with EU countries would hit legal services unless they are specifically covered in the eventual deal we strike with the EU.”

CETA covers goods, financial services, cross-border supply of services through to areas like shared standards of manufacturing – it is wide-ranging but not comprehensive.

Countries that participate in FTAs can include limits to the agreement’s scope.

“When it comes to legal services this means that lawyers wishing to practise in other jurisdictions may have to live in that country, register with the local Bar and seek full admission to that Bar,” said Joe Egan.

“If this happens to Britain’s relationship to the EU then it will be a much more bureaucratic and inflexible model than we currently have where lawyers can simply fly in and fly out to advise.”

And the effects are not just about an impact on UK PLC and our trade. FTAs do not typically cover areas such as co-operation over civil or criminal justice, or data protection.

Some EU member states have also had a tendency to put restrictions on legal services being delivered by lawyers from non-EU countries.

UK membership of the customs union and the single market helps us work around such barriers.

“As we enter these crucial negotiations CETA provides useful pointers – but it isn’t comprehensive so we would urge the negotiating team to work for a deal that is. A good deal for Britain as well as for the EU,” said Joe Egan.

Notes to editors


In its 30 chapters and several protocols, CETA covers such areas as goods, financial services, cross-border supply of services, e-commerce, competition policy, telecommunications, maritime transport, subsidies, investment, customs and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, domestic regulation, regulatory cooperation, trade remedies, mutual recognition of qualifications, temporary entry and stay of natural persons for business purposes, government procurement, sustainable development, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, labour, environment, bilateral dialogues and cooperation, administrative and institutional provisions, transparency and dispute settlement (full text).

Practice rights in South Korea

  • EU lawyers are permitted to advise in South Korea, provided that they are registered with the Ministry of Justice of Korea as Foreign Legal Consultants, the requirements for which include having to have practiced in their home jurisdiction for at least three years;
  • EU firms of lawyers may provide legal representation on international issues in South Korea, but this is limited to advising on public international law and treaties where one of the State parties is where a Foreign Legal Consultant is qualified (i.e. English lawyers can advise on UK treaties);
  • EU firms of lawyers may provide representation in international arbitration in South Korea;
  • EU law firms may offer domestic (and international) legal services in South Korea through joint ventures, but EU law firms' share in the joint venture is limited to 49%.

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 | | +44 (0)20 7316 5592