The draft Brexit agreement published yesterday maintains the ability for UK lawyers to operate in the EU as now, and vice versa, during the transition period that runs until December 2020.
The outline political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and EU published alongside it also identified “appropriate arrangements on professional qualifications” as one of the aims for the post-Brexit trade deal.
Articles 27, 28 and 29 of the draft agreement maintain, at least for the length of the transition period, the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive.
This gives EU citizens the right to acquire the professional title of another member state and to practise under the same conditions as that state’s nationals, on the basis of mutual recognition of their academic and vocational qualifications.
In conjunction with the Lawyers’ Establishment Directive, which is also mentioned, this includes the right to acquire the host state title of lawyer by integration in the local profession, following three years’ establishment in that state under the home state title (such as solicitor or barrister).
It is not yet clear whether the three years has to begin or end before the end of the transition period, which itself can be extended once, although the length of the extension is left blank in the agreement.
Similarly, UK lawyers will be able to continue appearing before the Court of Justice of the European Union, and their clients enjoy legal professional privilege in European Commission proceedings, until the end of the transition period.
As to what will happen after the transition period ends, that will be subject to negotiation after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.
In addition to the line on professional qualifications, the outline declaration said the UK and EU would look to agree “ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services and investment, delivering a level of liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the parties’ WTO commitments… with substantial sectoral coverage, covering all modes of supply and providing for the absence of substantially all discrimination in the covered sectors, with exceptions and limitations as appropriate”.
They also hoped to have “provisions on market access and national treatment under host state rules, ensuring that the parties’ services providers and investors are treated in a non-discriminatory manner, including with regard to establishment”.
They will further target provisions to promote “regulatory approaches that are transparent, efficient, compatible to the extent possible, and which promote avoidance of unnecessary regulatory requirements”.
This should give UK lawyers some hope; under World Trade Organisation rules, many EU countries already allow foreign lawyers to practise their home country and international public law, but not local law.
Last month, MPs warned about the “devastating impact” that a no-deal Brexit would have on law firms.