Almost half of U.K. lawyers say they are unprepared to deal with the impact of Brexit, according to new research that also sheds light on the extent to which large law firms are expecting to move jobs outside of the U.K. as a result of its split from the European Union.
The Thomson Reuters report, “Helping to Understand the Impact of Brexit,” draws on a survey of more than 250 legal service professionals, including interviews with lawyers at Allen & Overy, Baker McKenzie, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Pinsent Masons, and HFW.
Almost half of all respondents (47 percent) said they were “not well prepared” to tackle threats posed by Brexit during the next two years, while nearly two-thirds (63 percent) agreed that Brexit represented more of a threat than an opportunity in the short term.
The research also found that 40 percent of lawyers at large firms are expecting their employer to relocate jobs outside of the U.K. during the next decade.
More than one in five (21 percent) of respondents said they expect more than 10 percent of their firm’s total U.K. employment to be moved to non-U.K. offices in the coming years, including 9 percent who said this figure could be higher than 20 percent.
The analysis compares the 5 percent growth of the legal sector in the 18 months following the 2016 Brexit referendum against 3 percent for the wider U.K. economy, but argues that as the fallout from Brexit starts to take effect, this will reverse. Sectors including financial services, competition and intellectual property are marked out as areas likely to experience “high long-term disruption.”
Despite the research findings, many lawyers remain sanguine, with one partner at a large London firm commenting: “We’ve been preparing for Brexit for a long time. We have held internal meetings across our different practice areas and with our sector leads. And I think we are as well prepared as you would expect. We don’t see any head count reduction as being in sight or even a problem.”
Another London partner believes the process could produce as many opportunities as it does challenges: “For some sectors, it will lead to more rather than less work. In a no-deal scenario, disputes work will likely increase, as will competition work as a result of the repatriation of regulations. And the Competition and Markets Authority will be busier, so it opens up a new market.”
Firms started to take precautionary measures against Brexit ahead of the referendum in June 2016, amid fears that they may find it more difficult to practice EU law without lawyers registered in an EU country. This included registering lawyers in Ireland.
This summer, a survey conducted by Law.com’s London publication, Legal Week, found that 75 percent of London partners favored a second Brexit referendum.