After Brexit, Law Firms Face Uncertainties Too But With Benefits

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

In the aftermath of Britons’ vote to exit the European Union, law firms are finding themselves in a similar position to their clients: Wondering about the long term impact and how to appropriately plan for what’s next.

The only difference is law firms enjoy certain benefits from the uncertainty.

“It’s an unfortunate truth that it is bad for business and a bonanza for lawyers,” said Joseph Andrew, global chairman of Dentons, told Big Law Business.

Contracts need to be re-negotiated and strategies need to be re-thought, said Andrew, adding that law firms are the advisors of choice for such projects.

The need for advisory work focused on international trade, corporate restructuring, tax, employment and data protection has spiked, according to Baker & McKenzie London managing partner and global chair-elect Paul Rawlinson.

Still while law firms have been reshuffling their practice groups, adding lawyers to practice groups that face increased demand in the short- to medium-term, there are also other tasks that suggest a more serious adjustment is on the horizon.

Hogan Lovells, as a “precaution,” is registering a “small number” of antitrust, intellectual property and litigation lawyers as solicitors in Ireland, Susan Bright, the firm’s regional managing partner for the U.K. and Africa, said in a statement sent to Big Law Business.

U.K. lawyers enrolling as solicitors in Ireland will continue to be permitted to appear before the European Court of Justice while retaining legal privileges within the EU if the U.K. departs from the European Union.

Other law firm representatives said any adjustments to law firm personnel and operations will largely depend on the kind of exit from the EU the U.K. negotiates, which is expected to take at least two years to complete, as well as changes in client business models resulting from the Brexit vote.

While the legal uncertainty has boosted the amount of legal work in some areas, Squire Patton Boggs (U.K.) LLP European and Middle East managing partner Peter Crossley said in a statement sent to Big Law Business the vote may cause a slowdown in transactional work, particularly in corporate acquisitions, a sentiment voiced by others as well.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and others who urged a “remain” vote said in the runup to the June 23 national referendum if the U.K. leaves the EU the domestic economy will suffer.

But there is little consensus about whether the uncertainty that is being caused by the Brexit disruption will translate into long-term gain for lawyers.

Andrew dismissed the notion that a decrease in U.K. economic output would automatically mean lower revenues for law firms with a material U.K. presence, including Dentons, whose predecessor firms have operated in London since 1742.

On the contrary, he said Brexit has created an ideal opportunity for the legal community to dismantle inherited, deficient structures that at one time were seemingly indestructible.