Negotiations over Brexit must have a clear focus on ensuring British trade - including the export of legal services - is not undermined, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today as it reaffirmed its commitment to convening legal expertise to work for a good deal for the UK economy and UK citizens.

“As we attempt to unravel ties created during the past 40 years, we must not commit an act of self-harm and unravel our economy, our jobs and our rights, nor must we undermine vital areas of co-operation around security, such as the European arrest warrant,” said Law Society president Robert Bourns.

“The election did not result in an endorsement of a hard Brexit and so we are urging the government to work with business, including the legal sector, to ensure a number of benefits achieved through EU membership are retained.

“Brexit will be judged in the context of the deal that’s achieved for UK PLC and the people of Britain. It must match our ambitions for the future.

“In legal services alone - which are worth in excess of £25.7 billion to the UK economy annually - there are 380,000 people employed and a 1% growth in our sector creates 8,000 jobs elsewhere in the economy. We must not rip that up.”

Key issues for the legal sector include:

  • recognition and enforcement of judgments;
  • the EU-wide arrest warrant, a vital tool in fighting crime;
  • maintaining legal certainty throughout the Brexit process;
  • practice rights continued to the mutual advantage of all.

UK lawyers are currently able to service the cross-border needs of both businesses and individuals whether from satellite offices in the EU, or via ‘fly-in, fly-out’ services.

EU membership also means that UK lawyers can appear before EU courts and - vitally - their clients are entitled to confidentiality. If we lose these rights UK lawyers would potentially lose successful practice areas.

In addition, firms, including law firms, have been able to set up and operate subsidiaries in different EU countries where they are treated the same as “home” companies for the purposes of taxation and enjoy the same benefits and treatment as local firms.

These arrangements have supported the growth of networks established by English and Welsh firms across the EU, and firms from other EU jurisdictions to open and practice in and via London. This has helped to create the biggest and most diverse legal communities in Europe - 200 foreign firms from more than 40 jurisdictions.

Robert Bourns added: “The abolition of barriers, with the ability to settle disputes easily, has benefited businesses, individuals and firms.

“We also need to make sure both individuals and businesses must have a mechanism to have their rights enforced and disputes adjudicated.

“The law of England and Wales underpins a vast number of global transactions. Its relative certainty, an expert judiciary and professional environment renowned the world over for its competence and independence - both of judges and practitioners - all add to the appeal of our law and this jurisdiction.

“We welcome any move towards a more open Brexit and we look forward with all parties to get the best deal.”