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Brexit could generate plenty of opportunities for future lawyers
Ahead of Legal Cheek's "How will Brexit disarray affect future lawyers?" event at ULaw Moorgate on Thursday, ULaw associate professor Trevor Tayleur casts an expert eye over the impending upheaval
With the UK's future relationship with the EU in a state of limbo, the burning question for lawyers and law students remains unanswered: will EU law still be relevant post-Brexit?
Well, according to University of Law (ULaw) associate professor Trevor Tayleur, the simple answer is "yes". Citing the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018, Tayleur tells us that on exit day (Friday, 29 March) most EU laws will be automatically transferred into our domestic laws. This, he explains, enables the UK to maintain an element of legal certainty in the period immediately following Brexit. But problems will inevitably arise, Tayleur predicts, and lawyers proficient in EU law will need to be on hand to advise clients.
Despite the uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the political deadlock, Tayleur is fairly optimistic in his Brexit predictions. He says:
"The EU remains an important partner for this country. So, sooner or later there will be a trade agreement between the UK and EU, a deal which is likely to be negotiated some time in the future even if we initially crash out of the EU. When common sense prevails, the principles of a trade agreement would likely reflect many existing principles of EU law."
But, even if no agreement comes to pass, lawyers will find plenty of work advising UK clients operating in the EU, says Tayleur. For example, a British business trading within EU member states would still need to abide by EU competition laws - or risk facing penalties. "Google and Microsoft show that even if you're not an EU company, you're not immune from fines from the European Commission - you do not operate in a legal vacuum," Tayleur explains.
The real concern for law firms, however, is whether they can still provide legal services in EU member states following a 'no deal Brexit'. The current 'mutual market access' framework allows UK lawyers to provide legal services and establish law firms across the EU with few restrictions. However, as Tayleur warns, failure to sign a withdrawal agreement could see UK lawyers lose the right to practise in the EU and law firms miss out on lucrative work before the European Court of Justice.
Again, Tayleur remains hopeful that all is not lost: "British lawyers will want to continue their business in the EU - it will be less easy, and they will have to be creative in their way of escaping restrictions, but it's still possible." Indeed, a number of leading British solicitors have registered in the Republic of Ireland, to ensure continued access to the EU. Although, Tayleur warns that "there's a lot of 'red tape' involved in this process".
Prior to academia, Tayleur practised as a solicitor after qualifying in 1982. In search of a new challenge, he became involved in a charity facilitating negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa, where he grew up. This involved working closely with the South African government and the African National Congress, the main anti-apartheid political party ahead of Nelson Mandela's presidential election in 1994.
Joining ULaw (then the College of Law) in 1991, Tayleur explains how his brush with politics left him captivated with the UK's legal relationship with the EU. "I found it fascinating that a parallel system, that had developed its own unique methodology, was being used alongside English law in the English legal system," Tayleur recalls. Since then, the associate professor has been instrumental in developing EU law as new core subject at the law school.
But will law students be required to study EU law after Brexit? According to Tayleur, it largely depends on the deal. In the long term, EU law could become an optional, rather than a core module, says Tayleur, pointing to the fact it doesn't feature on the syllabus for the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
In the meantime, Brexit shouldn't deter aspiring solicitors from seeking out training contracts. While the legal market may suffer some loss of business under Brexit, it will also generate plenty of opportunities. "Brexit may result in an increased demand for legal advice because of the legal complexity, thus creating a greater demand for trainees - especially in City law firms," Tayleur believes. To make yourself an attractive candidate, Tayleur advises students to brush up on your EU law. "It is still going to be very important - so if you're an expert in EU law, you're going to understand the post Brexit system," he adds.
Trevor Tayleur will be speaking alongside lawyers from Ashurst, Hogan Lovells, Henderson Chambers and Shearman & Sterling at Thursday's Brexit-themed commercial awareness event at ULaw Moorgate in London. You can apply to attend the event, which is free, now.