4,000 UK solicitors seek Brexit 'backstop' by joining Irish roll
Boris Johnson's push to "get Brexit done" has helped fuel a massive increase in UK- qualified lawyers entering the roll of solicitors in Ireland.
New figures released by the Law Society reveal 1,877 English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish solicitors have entered the Irish roll so far this year. In contrast, just 737 UK solicitors joined last year.
The huge surge means 4,000 UK-qualified solicitors - roughly a fifth of the total roll - have registered in Ireland since 2016.
However, the vast majority have not moved here to practise. Around 750 have taken out practising certificates.
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Law Society director general Ken Murphy said the setting of various dates for when Brexit was meant to be "done" may have driven the surge, even if those dates came and went.
"What we hear back informally in feedback is this is being done so solicitors can maximise their status as lawyers in the EU," he said.
"They want to maintain rights of audience in EU law matters in the EU institutions and in particular the entitlement of their clients to legal privilege in EU investigations."
Mr Murphy said it was clear UK law firms were taking a strategic view and see entering the Irish roll as a contingency arrangement.
"There is no guarantee it is going to be effective or valuable for them. But it is a form of backstop they are creating for themselves. They are availing of this in really astonishing numbers," he said.
The firm with the most 'Brexit transfer' solicitors is Allen & Overy. It has 297 solicitors on the Irish roll, some 183 of whom have taken out practising certificates.
In contrast, Linklaters has 259 on the Irish roll, but just 17 of those solicitors have taken out certificates.
Mr Murphy said that while a large number of UK solicitors were enrolling in Ireland, they were not arriving here. He also said relatively few UK firms had actually set up offices here since the Brexit vote in 2016.
A recently published survey by professional services company Smith & Williamson said 16 of the top 20 firms in the country had been approached by UK firms with a view to a merger or acquisition in the past 12 months.
However, Mr Murphy said he was surprised by the figures.
"From the conversations I have had, I don't think such approaches have been serious and I don't think that most of the large firms here are in the market for such approaches in any case. They value their independence," he said.
Meanwhile, Irish efforts to attract legal business which may leave the UK after Brexit look set to intensify.
A Brexit Legal Services Implementation Group chaired by former Taoiseach John Bruton met for the first time last month and is examining how to promote Ireland as a destination for international legal work.