Law Society President outlines major changes, opportunities post-Brexit

Law Society President Stuart Gilhooly addressed the IBA’s 12th Annual Bar Leaders' Conference in Northern Ireland on 24 May 2017.

  • Greater competition and more complex regulatory environment pose major challenges for Irish legal firms.
  • Competitive advantages are available for Irish firms, however major cultural and structural changes needed over next two years.
  • Call to keep the UK relationship strong and close despite UK-EU negotiations.

More competition, an increasingly complex regulatory environment and a call to radically upskill are amongst the challenges and opportunities for the Irish legal profession outlined in a major speech at the International Bar Association (IBA) conference in Belfast today.

Speaking at the IBA’s 12th Annual Bar Leaders' Conference, Mr Stuart Gilhooly, President of the Law Society of Ireland, delivered a sobering yet optimistic speech outlining the likely outcomes from the Brexit decision.

“More than 1,100 UK solicitors have joined the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland since the Brexit referendum, and in recent discussions we have had confirmed that two major UK firms (Pinsent Masons LLP and DLA Piper LLP) are looking to establish offices in Dublin,” said Mr Gilhooly.

“Momentous decisions like Brexit can lead to terse, personal and short-sighted public discourse. The unintended fall-out can be violently disruptive, grave and costly - costly to our governments, costly to our economies and costly to our people across these islands.”

In recent research within the Irish legal profession, around 95% of law firms in Ireland see Brexit as negative or of minimal impact to their clients. Most firms viewed the top tier firms as the best positioned to benefit, with the increased competition for native talent impacting hardest on private practices.

“The challenges are many, but we can meet these challenges if we make smart choices now,” said Mr Gilhooly.

“Ireland will be the only English-speaking common law country in the EU – and that can bring us a competitive advantage over other EU competitors as we vie for talent and investment. However to take advantage we need to upskill in languages, and focus our infrastructure and education systems towards improved information and data management.”

“And most critically, at a political and systemic level, we need to keep the UK close - even if our allies are keen to push them away.”

“The future of the legal profession – both in Ireland and the UK – will face great strains over coming years. I have no doubt the Irish legal profession will be in a continued state of transition for the foreseeable future. But I have great optimism that if we identify and act upon the competitive advantages that Brexit will bring, then we can emerge a stronger and more central force within the EU and continue to be a close ally of our UK neighbours.”

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