Though London’s legal district hails its fundamentals back to the 14th century, the Legal Firms in London are contemporary, global businesses. Britain is known to have four of the world’s top biggest law firms in terms of revenue, and its firms have extended networks of offices across the world. The British legal industry gets almost 25bn ($33bn) a year, a fifth of it from exports. A major portion of its success is due to the supremacy of English law, which is often considered as the governing law for international commercial contracts and dispute resolution, even by parties that have no associations to Britain.
Brexit presents Legal Firms in London with two uncertainties. The first is how Britain’s upcoming relationship with the European Union will influence its operations in Europe, where they do most of their business. The second is how their clients will react to Brexit. With hardly more than a year left before Britain is due to exit the EU, Legal Firms in London are preparing for both qualms.
The chaotic scenario isn’t a perfect one for commerce, and most have been politicizing untiringly for a ‘soft Brexit’ – one that looks like the status quo as much as possible and which upholds key benefits such as passports for financial services and a detailed customs agreement for goods.
Talks between the UK government and Brussels stay ongoing and are heading for their final stages – or at least they should be. But notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s untamed efforts to garner support for her Chequers plan (a proposal that mixes a soft and hard Brexit), a concurrent refusal from both Barnier and Boris has made a no-deal Brexit look like much more of a possibility.
It’s a landscape not entertained by much of the legal domain: a recent survey by Legal Week discovered that three-quarters of City law firm partners supported a second referendum; a research by the Law Society predicted that the UK legal sector could suffer a 3 billion hit in revenue and a loss of 12,000 jobs by 2025 in case of a no-deal Brexit; and a report by Thomson Reuters and The Lawyer revealed that from a taster of over 300 partners across Europe and the UK, just 23% of those in the UK thought that a no-deal Brexit would lead to a long-term increase in workload (those in Europe had a rosier presentation of things, with 64% forecasting a long-term surge in workload).
However, it’s not considered as undesirable. The latest report gave above also discovered that more UK partners expected a major or slight increase in capacity in the short-term – primarily in the form of regulatory guidance – than those forestalling a significant or minor reduction. As Laura King, global head of people and talent at Clifford Chance, said: “Brexit is producing great amounts of work, and normal things like how clients label their products are needing a significant legal rethink.” A report prepared by Clifford Chance in collaboration with consultancy experts Oliver Wyman estimated that the cost of WTO tariff and non-tariff barriers for UK businesses is an estimated 27 billion.
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