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Brexit ‘brain drain’ is already happening, City partner tells MPs

Parliament: Brexit probe

A ‘brain drain’ of lawyers caused by Brexit is already happening, a senior Clifford Chance partner has told MPs on the justice select committee.

Simon Gleeson, lead legal advisor to the main UK banking and financial services industry bodies regarding Brexit, said corporations were already moving in-house lawyers to mainland Europe.

He was speaking to the committee this morning in an evidence session on the future of the legal services market post Brexit.

Asked by Labour MP David Hanson whether a ‘brain drain’ had begun, Mr Gleeson said: “It’s important to understand that it’s happening on both sides.

“Not only are we as firms gearing up to service more clients in continental Europe, but banks and asset managers are moving their legal folk to those places.”

Mr Gleeson said the fact that both these things were happening at the same time made it “much more likely” that jobs in the UK would be lost.

“We need to be perceived to be co-operating with the rest of Europe,” he said. “It is already the case that we have European law firms saying to our clients: ‘Why would you want to use English law? England’s moving out of Europe.’

“That is not true, but it is a perception, and one being aggressively promulgated by European lawyers.”

Since it was a perception, Mr Gleeson said it could be dispelled by “appropriate public statements by appropriate people” in Britain.

He added: “Many of us do not believe that continental European countries want a huge amount of market risk moving to their jurisdiction and landing on their taxpayers.

“There is a perfectly feasible deal to be done where London remains the financial centre of Europe, but it accepts some European regulation as a result.”

Meanwhile Alison Hook, co-founder of consultancy Hook Tangaza and a former director of international at the Law Society, said the flood of English solicitors requalifying as Irish showed no signs of abating.

She said 806 solicitors had requalified since the Brexit referendum and joined the roll in the Republic of Ireland – higher than the annual total of Irish solicitors qualifying in their own jurisdiction.

“Requalifying with the Irish Law Society is incredibly straightforward at the moment, but it depends on our membership of the EU. Our advice is that if you can get requalified, do it now, as you may not be able to in the future.

“Most of the people who have requalified are on the roll in Ireland, but in order to use the qualification you may need a practising certificate and a practising address.

“What we’re seeing from the beginning of this year is English lawyers opening more substantial premises in Ireland and looking for merger partners.”

Robert Bourns, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said his Irish counterpart had joked that if things continued as they are, by 2020 he would have completed a “reverse takeover” of Chancery Lane.

Ms Hook warned that the UK “did not have a lot in its hands to play with” in terms of protecting its legal services in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, “unless we shut down the ability of foreign lawyers to practise here, at great cost to ourselves”.