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Solicitors reveal the potential impact of Brexit on their areas of practice

How can I talk about Brexit in a training contract interview?

We interviewed partners at commercial law firms to find out how their legal areas of practice are likely to be affected by Brexit. Read their predictions below to help prepare for interviews and conversations on your vacation schemes.

'The government is striving for a customs arrangement with the EU that allows trade to be as seamless as possible. Few consider that this is possible.'

Most training contract or vacation scheme interviews involve testing candidates on their commercial awareness. Law recruiters want to see that you are aware of topical news and can identify how news stories and events affect firms, solicitors and their clients. Brexit is one of the hottest topics of the day, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon, so it pays to prepare answers to the interview question: ‘How will the UK’s departure from the European Union affect this firm and its clients?’. To help you prepare, we have asked partners to reveal their predictions for their legal practice areas.

Keep in that these predictions above are just that: partners looking into a crystal ball and making an intelligent guess as to how their areas of legal expertise will be affected over the next couple of years.

While some partners below are predicting an increase in legal work, it’s still too early to say whether Brexit will affect recruitment and job retention in law firms. Nathaniel Groarke and Niya Phiri’s point about needing to ‘watch this space’ is sound advice.

How to answer ‘the Brexit question’ at training contract and vacation scheme interviews?

Law firms have told us that they are busy getting information and advice to clients – search your favourite firms' websites to see some of this advice. Some firms have created software that tells clients of the likely impacts and effects of Brexit. They want to calm the fears that clients may have gained from the media.

Recruiters will expect you to know about Brexit, and for it to have considered the impact it could have on the firm and its practice. Even if you aren’t asked directly about Brexit, it should inform you answers to commercial awareness questions. Rosie Buckley, graduate recruitment advisor at Dentons UK & ME LLP, says: ‘I think lots of interviewers might be tired of discussing Brexit, but it is important candidates think about the impact of Brexit on the legal industry just in case.’

JUMP TO… Banking and finance | Capital markets | Commercial | Competition | Construction | Corporate | Employment | Energy, transport and infrastructure | Environmental | Family | Healthcare | Insolvency and restructuring | Insurance and reinsurance | Intellectual property | International dispute resolution | Life sciences | Oil and gas | Personal injury | Private client | Private equity | Professional negligence | Real estate | Shipping and admiralty | Tax | Technology | White collar crime

What are the likely implications of Brexit for banking and finance law?

‘We are busier than ever in our department, and anecdotal evidence suggests that most City practices are too. Initially Brexit created uncertainty, but current indications are that the City of London will retain its status as a prime global financial centre. Some administrative and structural functions will inevitably pass to other financial centres (these things are always in flux), but the reality is that no other place of business in Europe offers the sheer breadth and depth of seasoned financial experience and resources that you find in the Square Mile.

Because of the particular suitability of English law for use in commercial transactions, a huge range of banking and finance transactions across Europe (and indeed globally) are governed by English law.

Innovation and regulatory/supervisory reform is ever-present. Drafting automation is of growing importance, and adapting to such developments is essential if one is to remain efficient and cost-effective.’

Anthony Warner is a partner in the banking and finance group at Baker McKenzie.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for capital markets law?

‘The continued uncertainty has definitely affected the markets, although, in terms of regulations, we expect the rules to remain consistent with current EU legislation and requirements going forward.’

Sebastian Orton is a partner in the corporate department of Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for commercial law?

‘The impact of the UK leaving the EU will correlate to how the economy performs, eg do investors still have confidence in the UK economy? Do companies still want office space in the UK? My colleagues are advising many institutions about where they need to be based and how they will be regulated post-Brexit.’

Emma Matebalavu is a partner and head of London finance at Clifford Chance.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for competition law?

‘The full effects are difficult to predict without knowing how the future EU–UK relationship will look, but even a ‘hard’ Brexit is unlikely to have an adverse effect for competition lawyers. Many merger and antitrust cases which are currently handled exclusively by the European Commission will instead be subject to parallel reviews by the European Commission and the UK competition authority. This will add an interesting new angle to our work.’

Jordan Ellison is a partner in the competition group at Slaughter and May.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for construction law?

‘The exact nature of Brexit remains unclear, so we are starting to see a few examples of ways in which businesses in the construction sector have begin to try and shelter themselves from any potential impact of Brexit, such as by stockpiling materials. A number of companies in the construction sector have recently cited Brexit as the number one cause of concern for their business in 2020, so this is an area that will be worth watching.’

Ryan Lavers is a partner in the construction and engineering department at Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for corporate law?

‘It’s hard to predict the future impact of Brexit. We are still seeing a lot of foreign companies looking to buy business in the UK; that doesn’t seem to have slowed down so far, which may be because of the devaluation of the pound. London’s role as a financial centre of capital markets could be affected and lead to fewer transactions in the longer term.

One positive is that it won’t change the fact that clients across the world regard English law as unbiased and fair; that’s a real strength for London and the UK.’

James Wood is a partner in the corporate department at Sidley Austin LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for employment law?

‘This area of law will not be affected by the UK leaving the EU. Most employment law will remain the same for at least three to five years. We may require some sanity checks on holiday pay and there may be changes on the rights of employees on transfers (TUPE)… but we may not. The only aspect of leaving the EU that will affect clients with EU and EEA employees is in relation to the freedom of movement of workers. The government has introduced a new settlement scheme for EU and EEA workers (and there are proposing a new points-based immigration systems for all nationalities wishing to work in the UK).’

Kerren Daly is a partner and head of employment at Browne Jacobson LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for energy, transport and infrastructure law?

‘The government is striving for a customs arrangement with the EU that allows trade to be as seamless as possible. Few consider that this is possible. Goods are unlikely to move as smoothly as they do presently within the EU. Those involved in road transport and logistics have diverging views. Some want better regulation and reduction of red tape; others want consistency across EU countries when applying rules not just with the movement of goods but also with the movement of people. A borderless EU has enabled large influxes of cheap, skilled labour to enter the UK without restriction from Eastern Europe on demand. Curbs on freedom of movement may lead to a skills crisis.

The advent of cheap short-haul flights across Europe in the 1990s has revolutionised the airline industry and the way people travel. It owes a large part of its success to the liberalisation of air transport across the EU and the single aviation market. Is this set to continue post-Brexit?’

Jonathan Moss is a partner and head of the transport sector at DWF.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for environmental law?

‘Currently a very large proportion of environmental regulation across the UK derives from EU law. If we leave the EU without a withdrawal deal the UK will keep the existing body of law in the short term. But some areas, such as chemicals regulation, face upheaval as they are intermeshed in one pan-EU system that needs to be replicated for the UK. Also, a completely new body is to be introduced to hold the government to account on implementing environmental laws (rather than the European Commission). Environmental laws in the various parts of the UK may also start to diverge further. So, my expectation is that it will be a period of change and uncertainty, with environmental lawyers likely to be in reasonably high demand for some years to come to help sort through the unintended consequences. Coupled with this, the ‘climate emergency’ and the degree to which big corporate, finance and investors are pushing the sustainability agenda means that environmental and social issues are rising in priority.’

Julie Vaughan is a senior associate in the planning and environment group at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for family law?

‘Currently, much of England’s family law is intertwined with EU law. For example, if a divorce is possible in England and another EU country, then it is a first-past-the-post system. This could change, particularly if there is a no-deal Brexit. If Brexit goes ahead in any form, it is likely there will be opportunities and challenges for family lawyers. Watch this space!’

Nathaniel Groarke is a partner and head of the Manchester family department at Irwin Mitchell LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for healthcare law?

‘Most of our clients in healthcare law are based in the UK, so this practice area is unlikely to be significantly affected by Brexit.’

Margaret Duncan is a senior associate in the healthcare department at Kennedys.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for insolvency and restructuring law?

It remains unclear whether or not Brexit will diminish the UK’s role as one of the global restructuring centres. Potential challenges include recognition of UK insolvency and restructuring proceedings within the EU, and other jurisdictions continuing to develop their processes to present an attractive alternative to post-Brexit UK.

Morvyn Radlow is an associate in the financial restructuring and insolvency group at White & Case LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for insurance and reinsurance?

‘Brexit will have a significant impact on the insurance industry. The insurance industry is regulated at an EU level. The type of Brexit that we see, and how the industry is subsequently regulated both in the UK and EU, will impact on what services can be offered, where and to whom. Already, Lloyd’s of London has opened a subsidiary in Brussels in order to provide customers access to the European Economic Area insurance market in the event Brexit would prevent this.’

Kari McCormick is a partner in the dispute resolution department at Burges Salmon LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for intellectual property law?

‘Intellectual property law in England involves a significant amount of European law. Quite a lot of IP rights, with the exception of patents, are heavily harmonised across the single market or have EU-level equivalents. Brexit will mean these European-wide rights, which many companies have previously relied upon, will no longer cover the UK. However, the UK government is taking legislative steps to minimise the commercial disruption this will cause and companies are also taking steps to ensure they have appropriate national IP protection insofar as they do not wish to solely rely on such UK legislation.

There are also plans for a pan-European patent court, which are currently on hold pending a German constitutional challenge. There is also new European legislation concerning copyright coming into force, which will affect large technology platforms such as YouTube.’

Luke Maunder is a senior associate in the patent litigation team at Bristows LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for international dispute resolution law?

'Brexit offers an opportunity for this area of practice rather than a negative. With the uncertainty over the enforcement of court judgments across the EU if the current arrangements do not remain in place, businesses may opt for international arbitration over litigation in the English courts if they will need to enforce the award in Europe. In addition, with the likely demise of intra-EU bilateral investment treaties sooner or later, the UK coming out of the EU, may be able to maintain its own network of bilateral investment treaties with countries in Central and Eastern Europe and be viewed as an attractive jurisdiction for structuring investments in those countries.'

Sylvia Tonova is a partner at Jones Day.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for life sciences law?

‘There is potential for Brexit to cause a lot of upheaval for our clients. This means that, for us as lawyers, in the short term we will be helping them to deal with the practical consequences. A lot of pharmaceutical clients are headquartered in the UK and, in order to allow them to keep marketing their products in Europe, they will have to transfer their approvals from the UK to another EU member state and reorganise themselves. This is something we’ve already started to help clients with.’

Brian Kelly is a partner in the life sciences regulatory practice of Covington & Burling LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for oil and gas law?

‘The fundamental structure of the UK upstream oil and gas industry and its governing legal regime, including the licensing system, is unlikely to be significantly affected by Brexit. It should be noted that the regulatory framework applying to the upstream industry – and in particular to environment and health and safety regulation – is highly developed independently of EU law, and any impact is likely to be minor. The offshore decommissioning regime mainly stems from international conventions and domestic legislation, and would therefore be largely unaffected.

Clearly a concern is the perceived reluctance of some foreign or overseas oil companies to invest into the UK North Sea further, or into exploration projects either on the mainland in other areas of the United Kingdom or in other energy sections, against the background of the Brexit uncertainty. However, a large element of the work that we do is outside the UK.’

Julia Derrick is a partner in the projects (energy & resources) group at Ashurst LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for personal injury law?

‘When the UK leaves the EU then in theory European health and safety law will no longer apply to the workplace, which could result in reduced health and safety standards, and a consequent increase in accidents at work.’

Christopher McKinney is a partner in the personal injury practice group at Shoosmiths.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for private client law?

‘If the impact of Brexit is anything like the 2009 downturn, an economic slowdown on its own will have less impact on private client lawyers than transactional lawyers: some clients make money and some lose money but, either way, clients need advice on what to do with their money. Brexit is more likely to affect this practice area if people seek to leave the UK because, for example, their business moves to continental Europe.’

Jenny Smithson is a partner at Macfarlanes LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for private equity law?

‘Parties are continuing to take a similar approach to that taken for the last 18 months or so: a wait-and-see approach to both new investments and sale processes while there’s uncertainty about the timing and manner of the UK’s withdrawal from, and its future relationship with, the EU. That said, there are sectors which are, or will be, relatively unaffected by Brexit, and when attractive businesses in those sectors do come to the market, we are continuing to see a lot of competition for them. Overall, there is still a good number of transactions happening, but once the Brexit question is settled we expect there to be an increase in activity.’

Marc Field is a partner at Addleshaw Goddard LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for professional negligence law?

‘The uncertainty around Brexit means that people are required to make business decisions now when the legal or commercial implications of those decisions is uncertain. As such, this could potentially lead to professional negligence issues arising from advice given during this transitional period. However, it may take some time for any such claims to be made. Watch this space!’

Niya Phiri is a legal director in the insurance, financial and professional disputes practice at Clyde & Co LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for real estate law?

‘The retail and leisure sectors have their own pressures aside from Brexit that are rapidly changing the way trading businesses view their real estate needs. Brexit undoubtedly has created operational issues – predominately with employees – and it seems that matters are unlikely to ever return to the way they were but this is not solely due to Brexit.'

There are a number of international retailers and leisure operators who see the UK as an attractive market and do not seem to have any concerns about continuing to invest in the UK as either their platform for European expansion or as a standalone market.

Adam Walford is a partner in the real estate/retail and leisure teams at Howard Kennedy LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for shipping and admiralty law?

‘While Brexit is likely to have regulatory implications for marine insurers and ship finance banks, it is unlikely to mean that English law is no longer the preferred choice for shipping contracts. That preference arises out of:

  • the trust placed by the global shipping industry in the quality (and neutrality) of the English courts (and maritime arbitrators)
  • a body of law that has been developed over many years, which provides parties with a degree of certainty as to the terms of their bargain.

Neither of those factors will change because the UK is no longer a member of the EU.

Cristan Evans is a partner at Stephenson Harwood LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for tax law?

Tax affects all people and companies and, as such, tax disputes will remain a growing practice area, particularly as there is always an increase in the number of disputes during periods of uncertainty. Brexit will have the biggest effect on indirect tax, where the majority of UK law derives from European directives.

Emily Clark is a partner at Travers Smith LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for technology law?

In general, technology is relatively resilient to Brexit, as it doesn’t involve the physical transfer of goods, but we are increasingly seeing companies looking closely at their supply chains in preparation. We anticipate a bigger impact on the data protection side, as it remains to be seen whether the EU will recognise the UK as an ‘adequate’ regime in relation to the transfer of data. This isn’t insurmountable though, as even if the UK is not recognised as ‘adequate’, there are tried and tested means of lawfully transferring data in and out of the EU.

Sarah Bell is a partner in the intellectual property and technology group at DLA Piper LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for white collar crime?

‘White collar crime law will primarily be affected by Brexit’s impact on the facility for international cooperation. Over the past ten years a plethora of laws have been introduced to enable international cooperation to happen, and to happen efficiently, and it will be fascinating and challenging to see how this cooperation plays out following Brexit.’

Tom Epps is a partner in white collar and regulatory defence at Cooley (UK) LLP.

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