When the leaders of the law societies of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England and Wales met (as they do twice every year), on 19 February in Belfast, one topic inevitably dominated the agenda.
While a variety of matters to do with regulation, professional indemnity insurance, access to justice, mental-health issues for solicitors, and diversity and inclusion in the profession were given time on a busy agenda, the top item in Belfast was Brexit.
How will Brexit affect the four jurisdictions, their citizens, their solicitors and their clients? No certainty, of course, could be provided then or now in response to those fraught and contentious questions.
The phenomenon whereby enormous numbers, in comparative terms, of England and Wales solicitors have chosen to take out a second qualification in Ireland (all the while remaining at work in London, Brussels or elsewhere) was remarked on yet again.
While this was analysed in some depth on pages 22 and 23 of the December 2018 issue of the Gazette, the fact was noted that the influx had not in any way abated. In fact, perhaps driven by the chronic political uncertainty that continues to dominate Brexit, the numbers of transferring England and Wales solicitors had, in fact, accelerated sharply in the early months of 2019.
The Gazette can now provide the up-to-date statistics in this regard, accurate as of the date of going to press (25 April 2019).
A total of 2,772 England and Wales solicitors have registered on the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland since 1 January 2016. For comparison purposes, up to and including 2015, there were, on average, 50 such registrations annually.
There are currently 19,688 on the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland. Accordingly, the 2,772 new names from 2016 to date represent over 14% of that total.
Remarkably, there are also approximately 700 more applications currently being processed.
“With the extension of the article 50 process granted to Britain by the EU27, how many ‘Brexit refugee’ names will have appeared on the roll here by Halloween is anyone’s guess,” remarked director general Ken Murphy.