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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 19 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?

‘The impact of Brexit on the UK financial services sector remains unclear and will depend on the withdrawal terms particularly in relation to passporting rights, which allow financial institutions to conduct their operations (including lending) across the EU, and the extent to which financial firms choose to move their operations so that they remain within the EU once withdrawal is concluded.

Some of our clearing bank clients have already announced plans to move jobs to other EU jurisdictions. Failure to negotiate a satisfactory deal will undoubtedly put the UK financial services industry under pressure, but, as noted above, it has proven itself to be resilient in adverse circumstances and is well placed to overcome this challenge to its global dominance. Banking and regulatory lawyers at my firm are engaging with clients to help them navigate this period of uncertainty.

In terms of English law finance documents, so far not much has changed due to Brexit. We are expecting this to change once withdrawal terms become clearer.’
Tom Bussy is a partner in the banking team at Osborne Clarke 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?

'The impact of Brexit on M&A activity is uncertain. On the face of it, there’s no reason why corporate transactions shouldn’t continue in the UK, nor why English law won’t continue to be the governing law of choice for cross border deals.'

Vica Irani is a partner in the corporate department at Jones Day.

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 a 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 and on demand from Eastern Europe. Curbs on freedom of movement may lead to a skills crisis.’

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 European and competition law?

‘Brexit will have a profound effect on our work. At present, the UK competition regulators share enforcement responsibilities in the UK with the European Commission. Post-Brexit, EU law would cease to apply in the UK, with the result that the UK regulators would have to take on more cases and run these in parallel with Brussels. Substantive UK competition law may also diverge from EU law over time.

The workload of competition lawyers will need to refocus and potentially will increase. UK law firms may need to increase their presence in Brussels and will advise on related trade law and regulatory matters that will have huge strategic importance for clients.’

Stephen Rose is a partner in the competition, EU and regulatory group at Eversheds Sutherland.

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 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 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?

‘I don’t think there’s going to be a huge impact as the courts in England and Wales will remain a popular place for people to resolve their disputes. Lawyers will always be needed to make the wheels of commerce go round and humans will always make mistakes.’

Sarah Clover is a partner at Clyde & Co.

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. Brexit will clearly bring new challenges but we are already seeing some potentially very exciting opportunities coming out of it from a tax perspective.'

Emily Clark is a partner at Travers Smith 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.