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Brexit fears: Record number of UK solicitors seek admission in Ireland

New figures from the Law Society of Ireland have revealed that in the first six months of 2016, a record-breaking 186 solicitors from the UK have been admitted to practice in Ireland.

With the referendum on whether Britain will leave the EU this coming Thursday (June 23) it appears that many firms are making contingency plans ahead of a possible Brexit, with the vast majority of solicitors citing the possibility of the UK’s exit from the European Union as their primary reason for seeking admission in Ireland.

The figure of 186 is more than three times the total admitted at this stage last year, when the number was less than 50. In 2015 the total number of UK solicitors that transferred to Ireland was 101. In 2014, that number was 51. According to the Law Society there were 15,196 solicitors on the roll in Ireland at the end of 2015.

Irish Law Society director general Ken Murphy said: ‘this is by far the largest number of transfers of solicitors from the UK in any given year, and we’re only halfway through the year.

‘Of the EU member states, Ireland is the legal jurisdiction most equivalent to the UK. We are both English-speaking, both common law jurisdictions and our legal institutions are much the same. This makes Ireland the destination of choice for solicitors in England, in particular, who are concerned about the possibility of the UK voting to leave the EU.’

Many of the solicitors specialise in EU and competition law, with the right to argue before EU tribunals such as the Court of Justice of the European Union only afforded to lawyers qualified in an EU state.

However according to Brussels-based Slaughter and May Partner John Boyce, solicitors are also concerned with losing their rights to EU professional legal privilege.

‘People are concerned that they want to retain the right to plead before the courts in Luxembourg and legal professional privilege. It could include other areas of law where EU law has a significant impact – possibly some financial services, trade law, customs laws – that sort of thing.’

Murphy added: ‘It is our understanding that the majority of the solicitors who are completing this process will continue to practice in London or Brussels and do not intend to set up a physical practice in Ireland.’

It is understood both Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Berwin Leighton Paisner are among those preparing to admit more solicitors in Ireland as a result of Brexit. Freshfields is believed to have put in a big block application for a number of its solicitors to be admitted to practice in Ireland, but the firm refused to comment on how many solicitors had applied.

However Boyce is not considering it seriously for the meantime. ‘Even people like Michael Gove have said that he thinks it will be four years before any deal is reached and in the meantime the existing rules apply. I think for certain things it is best just to wait and see which way it turns out.’

Read more on the topic in our roundtable: ‘Brexit – The Big Uneasy’