Record numbers of UK solicitors admitted in Ireland ahead of EU referendum

Firms making contingency plans now ahead of possible Brexit.

In the first six months of 2016, a record-breaking 186 solicitors from the UK will have been admitted to practice in Ireland. This is more than three times the total at this stage last year when the number was less than fifty. The vast majority of these solicitors have cited the possibility of the UK’s exit from the European Union as their primary reason for seeking admission in Ireland.

Under rules made following an EU Directive of 1989, solicitors who have qualified in England and Wales or Northern Ireland are permitted to undergo a simple process that, when completed, allows them to practice as solicitors in Ireland. Solicitors qualified in Ireland can transfer with similar ease to the rolls of solicitors in Northern Ireland and England and Wales.

There are different and more onerous rules for solicitors qualified in Scotland, other EU member states and a select group of other jurisdictions. This involves a much more complex process of either passing an exam called the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (QLTT) or practising as a solicitor in Ireland for three years before becoming qualified in Ireland via the EU’s Establishment Directive.

Foreign solicitors who complete the qualification transfer process can continue to practice in the jurisdiction where they initially qualified.

Director General of the Law Society Ken Murphy explains, “This is by far the largest number of transfers of solicitors to Ireland from the UK in any given year, and we’re only halfway through the year.”

“Of the EU member states, Ireland is the legal jurisdiction most equivalent to the UK. We are both English-speaking, both common law jurisdictions and our legal institutions are much the same. This makes Ireland the destination of choice for solicitors in England, in particular, who are concerned about the possibility of the UK voting to leave the EU.”

“The right to argue before EU tribunals such as the Court of Justice of the European Union is only afforded to lawyers qualified in an EU state.”

“It is our understanding that the majority of the solicitors who are completing this process will continue to practice in London or Brussels and do not intend to set up a physical practice in Ireland.”

“While no one knows what agreements will be in place should the UK vote to leave the EU, some UK firms are making contingency plans now. The majority of solicitors that are transferring are from large London-headquartered firms including at least one of the so-called “Magic Circle” firms, one of the ten largest law firms in the world. Many of these solicitors specialise in EU and competition law.”

“There are several dozen applications that are still being processed so the number of transferring solicitors from the UK is expected to increase further before the referendum on 23 June. Depending on the result of the referendum, these applications may continue to rise.”

In 2015 the total number of UK solicitors that transferred to Ireland was 101. In 2014, that number was 51. There were 15,196 solicitors on the Roll in Ireland at the end of 2015.

The complete process by which foreign qualified lawyers may apply to go on the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland is outlined on our website under Foreign Lawyers.

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