Registered European lawyers (RELs) will have a grace period until the end of next year to sort out how they will continue to practise in the UK, even if there is a no-deal Brexit, the government said last week.
Issuing guidance on the implications of no-deal for lawyers, the Ministry of Justice said EU lawyers who were RELs would retain their pre-Brexit practice and qualification rights until 31 December 2020.
“During this period, they will be able to requalify as a UK lawyer under existing routes,” it said.
Non-RELs wanting to stay would have to requalify to provide reserved legal activities, or register as a registered foreign lawyer (RFL) if they did not want to provide reserved services, but instead work jointly with a UK lawyer.
Alternatively, they could work under the supervision of a UK lawyer or only undertake unreserved legal work.
Lawyers from the EU, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, including RELs, who own, or part own, a legal services business in England, Wales or Northern Ireland after Brexit will need to requalify domestically, become an RFL, or “make the necessary changes to their practice or business structure to comply with the new regulatory arrangements”.
Swiss lawyers are in a better position due to the UK-Switzerland separation agreement. Swiss lawyers who have registered in the UK would not need to take any action to continue to practise after Brexit, and any others would have four years to register.
The guidance was less clear about what would happen to UK lawyers working in the EU or EEA. “We expect that UK lawyers working in the EU and in Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway under UK qualifications and professional titles will need to register in the same way as a non-EU lawyer,” it said.
Where lawyers have had their qualifications recognised under the EU Mutual Recognition of Qualifications Directive, these should continue to be recognised.
However, the guidance said the European Commission has not specifically addressed the recognition of qualifications under the Lawyers Establishment Directive.
“We therefore do not know what will happen to affected lawyers in this area,” the Ministry of Justice said.
The latest Brexit update from the Law Society said it was working on a memorandum of understanding/mutual recognition agreement with Belgian bars to secure the rights of solicitors in Belgium after Brexit, based on reciprocity.
This would mean that branches of UK LLPs would be able to continue operating in Belgium.
The society said laws passed in France would give UK-qualified lawyers a one-year grace period after Brexit, during which rights remain the same, and they would be able to use the provisions of the establishment directive on requalifying locally if they have been working there for three years.
The French law will also grandfather all UK LLPs already established in France at Brexit.
In Germany, new legislation will add the UK legal professions to the list of third country legal professions able to establish in Germany.
The Law Society said: “Based on intelligence we have received from members in Germany, the German Bar is going to apply the acquired rights principle to those UK lawyers who are currently registered under home title, and they are not removing them from the list.
“This means that they should be able to continue to qualify as German lawyers in due course, should they so wish.
“Branches of UK LLPs with their centre of administration/control in the UK will continue being authorised in Germany; what will not be permitted are branches of UK LLPs with their centre of administration/control in Germany itself.”
The society said Brexit would not immediately threaten the UK’s position as a member of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE, after its French acronym), as membership is not tied to being in the EU.
“However, CCBE delegations may take action to exclude the UK delegation from full membership by a vote in plenary session.”