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Solicitors reveal Brexit impact on law sector

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 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.

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. We will watch with interest to see whether this changes over time.’

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

What are the likely implications of Brexit for construction law?

‘The construction industry is likely to be severely impacted by a ‘hard’ Brexit, with significant limits on the number of foreign workers coming to the UK, who are the life-blood of construction. Projects may go into delay, causing employers to look to third parties to cover their resulting losses. On the other hand, a hard Brexit may also affect the amount of investment in the UK construction market, which may mean there are fewer projects that can go wrong and give rise to litigation claims.’

Alexandra Anderson is a partner in the construction and engineering department at RPC.

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 businesses 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.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for employment law?

'Some clients may wish to transfer staff to other EU jurisdictions and seek advice about that process or about law in other jurisdictions. There may also be changes in relation to UK workforces and we expect questions in relation to changes to employees’ terms of employment or structure.'

Andrea Finn is a partner in the employment, pensions and incentives department at Simmons & Simmons.

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 LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for environmental law?

'A big change in the practice could happen after Brexit; there are currently fears circulating that environmental standards could be sacrificed if Britain secures trade deals with other countries. There aren’t presently any proposals that aim to introduce a replacement to the current system where the European Commission and the European Court of Justice hold the government to account on environmental issues. Furthermore, a quarter of all current EU legislation is estimated to be environmental regulation. Most environmental law on the UK statute book is derived from or connected to EU environmental law. This means that Brexit should involve lots of work for environmental lawyers as the ramifications become clear.'

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 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 of our cases are currently handled solely by the European Commission. In future, many of these cases will come under the jurisdiction of the European Commission and the UK 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 family law?

‘A lot of law we use is purely domestic but the UK’s exit from the EU may well affect issues such as jurisdiction and there may be an impact for international clients or those based in the EU. We need to wait and see.’

Teresa Davidson is a partner and heads up the Leeds family law team at Irwin Mitchell LLP.

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

‘In addition to the usual developments based on case law, Brexit presents challenges for businesses that trade in the UK and that have relied for many years on European IP rights. This has led to an increase in work as clients plan for changes to the law following Brexit.’

Nick Bolter is a partner and head of intellectual property in London at Cooley (UK) 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 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 Access Legal from 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.

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

‘Parties on all sides are taking a wait-and-see approach while there’s uncertainty about the timing and manner of the UK’s withdrawal from, and its future relationship with, the EU. Once there is clarity, there is likely to be an increase in work for private equity lawyers as large companies start to reshape their operations, and put some of their businesses and divisions up for sale. The availability of debt financing is the main factor likely to affect private equity activity levels.’

Ben Perry is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.

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

‘It is very difficult to predict precisely how Brexit will impact on the practice of law in this country, particularly because we do not yet know what our exit will look like.  However, there is every reason to think that businesses from all over the world will continue to use the Courts in London to resolve their disputes, taking advantage of the high quality of our judiciary.’

Sarah Clover is a partner at Clyde & Co.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for oil & 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.

Freed from the strictures of the EU state aid regime (though still subject to World Trade Organisation rules) the UK government could choose to support key infrastructure in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS) – eg pipelines and terminals – necessary to extend the life of the basin.

Clearly a concern is the perceived reluctance of some foreign or overseas oil companies to invest into the North Sea further, or into other exploration projects either on the mainland in other areas of the United Kingdom or in other energy sectors, against the background of the Brexit uncertainty.'

Nikhil Markanday is a partner at Ashurst LLP.

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

'Both commercial and residential property could be affected by the UK leaving the EU. If any EU business cannot trade in the UK, it may want to vacate its UK business premises; this may cause a fall in that property's value because it will cease to generate rental income for its owner. Likewise if EU nationals cannot remain in the UK, they may want to sell their homes which will increase market supply and potentially reduce house prices.'

Clare Breeze is a partner at Macfarlanes 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 (a) the trust placed by the global shipping industry in the quality (and neutrality) of the English Courts (and maritime arbitrators); and (b) 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 United Kingdom is no longer a member of the EU.’

Cristan Evans is a partner at Stephenson Harwood.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for sports law?

'Like most areas of law, it is not yet clear exactly what impact leaving the EU will have on sports law in the UK. This will ultimately depend on the terms on which the UK leaves (assuming, of course, that it does!). So far not much has changed for sports law, other than clients being eager to ‘Brexit-proof’ their contracts by making sure their terms remain effective post-Brexit. In a similar way to being robust in the face of recession, sports law is well placed to weather any potential storm, due to the unique nature of the sports sector’s end users – the fans – and the fact that interest in sports is something that is unlikely to change irrespective of whether the UK leaves or remains.'

Alasdair Lamb is an associate at CMS.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for tax law?

'Tax is always relevant – whether the market is doing well or not – and it is fair to say that tax practices throughout the City have grown significantly over the last few years despite the economic climate.'

Emily Clark is a partner at Travers Smith LLP.

What are the likely implications of Brexit for technology law?

'We are seeing IT project agreements starting to anticipate Brexit through the inclusion of 'Brexit clauses’ but these are, at this stage, more general in nature pending the full impact of Brexit being understood. Some companies are pausing for thought with infrastructure and other projects, so this inevitably affects their planned IT programmes but we'd not anticipate this to have a significant long term impact.'
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?

'Given a significant proportion of relevant sanctions (such as those imposed on Iran, Egypt and Russia) derive from the European Union, Brexit will significantly affect the advisory work we do for companies who want to trade in sanctioned countries. Also, at present, intra-Europe extradition takes place according to the European Arrest Warrant regime. It’s not clear what will replace this post-Brexit.'

William Fotherby is an associate at Dechert LLP.

The 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 few years and post-Brexit. Whether the government negotiate a soft or hard Brexit (and whether the UK remains in the single market) will have an impact on free movement of goods, services and people. The prospect of a ‘great repeal bill’ will also have an effect.
While some partners below are predicting an increase in legal work, it’s too early to say whether Brexit will affect recruitment and job retention in law firms. Ben Perry and Teresa Davidson’s point about the ‘need to wait and see’ is sound advice.

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.
Don’t forget: it’s good to ask interviewers about Brexit in your interviews – or strike up a conversation about Brexit with trainees, solicitors and partners during your vacations schemes – but only if you are genuinely interested in the answer. If you start a conversation about Brexit, be prepared to offer your opinion too.