How will Brexit affect lawyers and law firms?

On the run up to the EU referendum in June 2016, issues like the NHS and immigration seemed to dominate the headlines.

Now that Britain has had its say it is time for the less controversial – but just as important – effects of Britain’s vote to have their time in the limelight.

Let’s look at Brexit’s effect on law firms and regional scale legislation.

Are we likely to see the consequences – and if so, when? Or will changes to legislation just be an unseen ripple in a very large pond of other issues?

Have the possible effects on law firms been overlooked?

You might struggle to remember any mention of the effects of Brexit on law firms throughout the endless news coverage at the beginning of this year.

Of course, international and EU law got a look in as countries around the world began to flex their muscles and shout the loudest. But what of small town law for us small town folk?

Philip Kolvin QC agrees that ‘the consequences for our legal system have barely been figured in’ but as British legislation reaches into every crevice of day to day life surely it’s protected… Maybe not.

In September of 2015 The Law Society warned of disproportionate upset to legal services compared to the UK economy as a result of Brexit.

As we’ve already seen substantial turmoil to the economy in recent months. is the legal system in for an even bigger rock of the boat? We might just have to hold on tight and wait and see.

Should we be expecting substantial changes in legal practices?

Put simply, it depends on your area of practice.

Many parts of the UK’s legislation have become entwined with EU law since we joined in 1973 and it is these areas that may see changes. For example, employment law attracts considerable attention from the European Parliament and so, any changes made to EU employment law over the last four decades will likely have been mirrored here in the UK.

However, now that Britain’s ties with the EU have been severed, a review of employment legislation may begin.

Discrimination rights are unlikely to see any changes due to social and political sensitivities in such matters. However, more unpopular rulings such as the Working Time Directive or agency worker regulations may be reviewed.

Other practice areas such as Intellectual Property or Financial Services Regulation also have strong links to EU legislation and so, may get similar revisions.

The extent to which our laws are looked at or changed depends entirely on how much control Britain eventually gains.

If we decide to leave the EU completely, theoretically the legislative slate could be wiped clean.

However, the other – more probable – outcome may be that we choose to join the EEA, joining other non-member states such as Iceland and Norway. In this case, we may continue to accept the majority of EU law.

It also must be made clear that many practice areas, including many of our own departments here at Wallace Robinson & Morgan are ruled by British legislation. These areas are unlikely to see any changes post-Brexit.

Will changes in legislation lead to an increase in workload?

The initial impact to both clients and lawyers will be the extra time needed to understand any changes to legislation.

Solicitors will need to thoroughly explain these changes to clients and businesses to avoid uncertainty.

Gary Senior, chair of Baker and Mackenzies, is keen not to repeat the instability created by the Scottish referendum. However, it is likely that only the large City firms dealing with international clients are likely to see a drastic increase in workload to calm this uncertainty.

Lawyers workloads are also dependent ‘upon the pace of change away from EU-originated law and regulation’ according to Simon Beswick from Osbourne Clarke. Once any changes are in place, however, it is likely to be business as usual.

A time to reflect

Now that the dust has settled, after the furore of media attention surrounding the EU referendum, people can pay more attention to those areas that maybe they did not know about before, such as the effect on British legislation.

If these areas were to change Britain’s mind post-Brexit it is arguably too late, but we can now set about trying to understand the consequences of our vote.

For law firms, it appears to be a waiting game to see if our government decides to take complete control and start from scratch with practice areas such as employment law or continue working together on collaborative legislation throughout the EEA.

When these decisions are made it is down to the individual law firms and lawyers to try and get their heads around any changes, to avoid uncertainty in the future.

The one thing everyone can agree on, and the words preached by Gary Senior, is that uncertainty is bad for business so let’s hope we’re not waiting too long!

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