Sunday 20 August 2017

Law chief: firms need to upskill to cope with Brexit

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Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

Irish law firms may have to develop competence in international trade law, cross-border regulation and knowledge of the post-Brexit UK regime to maintain a competitive advantage, the President of the Law Society of Ireland has said.

Stuart Gilhooly told the International Bar Association conference in Belfast that the strategic advantage of Ireland as one of the main common law jurisdictions within the EU can't be underestimated in the context of Brexit.

He confirmed top UK law firms Pinsent Masons and DLA Piper are interested in coming to Dublin to open "reasonably substantial branch offices".

"Although Brexit wasn't their original catalyst, it is the driving force behind their current interest in doing so this year, if possible," he said."If others have similar plans, they are keeping their cards close to their chest."

He also said more than 1,100 UK lawyers have joined the roll of Irish solicitors, but less than a quarter have taken out practising certificates. "As Brexit divorce draws closer, it is likely that we will see more joining the roll and a higher percentage taking out practising certificates in order to guard against possible regulatory change."

As the economy recovers, he said, so to does the demand for legal practitioners. Demand for talent is high, and will be higher with Pinsent Masons and DLA Piper entering the market, he added, saying the competition for associate level talent is likely to heighten. "Irish law firms may need to develop a competence on international trade law, cross-border regulation and a knowledge of the post Brexit UK regime," he said. "As clients continue to trade to and through the UK, or establish families across these islands, firms that do not master these areas will be at a competitive disadvantage. In short: firms will have to upskill and think smart in relation to Brexit."

Mr Gilhooly said the Law Society must improve its collaboration with the state's trade and enterprise agencies, continue to educate and inform policymakers and assess the future needs of the legal sector and recalibrate its approach to training.

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