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The Mobility of Irish – but not British – Lawyers in the European Union

By: Brendan Rooney BL

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The growing demand for cross-border legal services across the European Union (“the EU”) makes it easier for lawyers to envisage a career beyond national borders. The preferred destination for EU-qualified lawyers is Belgium (where most of the EU institutions are found), followed by Germany, Luxembourg, Italy and France. The free movement of lawyers is highly encouraged within the EU. The legal profession has benefited from an early EU Directive in 1977 which made it easier for lawyers to provide services in other jurisdictions. Another Directive in 1998 harmonised the conditions in the EU under which lawyers can establish themselves in other EU Member States.

As both solicitors and barristers fall under the definition of lawyers under the directives, Irish-qualified lawyers can register in another European bar association by providing a certificate of registration from the Law Society or the Bar of Ireland. This means an Irish solicitor or barrister would still maintain their registration in Ireland but would be able to live and practice in another EU Member State as a fully qualified lawyer without taking any further steps.

However, the legal practice will always be carried out under the home-country professional title. This means that Irish lawyers would still practice under their title of “solicitor” or “barrister” cannot claim, for example, the title of “avocat” in France or Belgium, or the title of “Rechtsanwalt” in Germany until they have been practicing for at least three years in the new jurisdiction.

Despite Brexit, Irish lawyers can also still practice in the UK without too much difficulty. Irish barristers can still seek membership with the Bars of Northern Ireland, England and Wales, or Scotland (providing they satisfy the conditions for entry), and Irish solicitors can have their name added to the Roll of Solicitors in England and Wales without having to sit any further exams. This is because of a post-Brexit reciprocal qualifying agreement reached between the Law Society of Ireland and the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England and Wales. However, Irish solicitors will need to pass some exams in order to practice in Scotland.

As there are reciprocal agreements between the UK and Ireland, British lawyers can also practise in Ireland without too many post-Brexit restrictions. However, due to UK’s departure from the EU, they no longer enjoy the same rights as their Irish counterparts to practise generally within the EU since the directives which facilitate the practice of lawyers in EU Member States no longer apply to the UK. British lawyers now have a status which is comparable to the status of non-EU, third-country lawyers seeking to practice in the EU with “their practising rights vary[ing] in each EU Member State”.

For a brief period, it seemed that there might be a “back-door” for members of the Law Society of England and Wales whereby they could obtain an Irish practising certificate from the Law Society of Ireland without actually having a presence in Ireland. This practising certificate can be used as evidence of entitlement to practise in Ireland and to register with other EU Member States. However, this “back-door” was firmly shut when the Law Society of Ireland confirmed that a solicitor must have a physical presence in Ireland in order to obtain an Irish practising certificate.

In short, Irish lawyers can benefit from both their status as a member of the EU and from the traditional mutual recognition of qualifications between Ireland and the UK to provide legal services across the continent. Meanwhile, minus a few post-Brexit hiccups, British qualified lawyers can still practise in Ireland but no longer have the same privileged position of being able to practise across the EU and have been prevented from using Ireland as a “back-door” to achieve this.

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