26 Aug Beyond Brex-VID
For overseas-based lawyers who are considering a move to the UK at some point in the future, this has been a testing time. There has certainly been an unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’ – but often without any real context.
I have had the opportunity to chat with Dr Christopher McCorkindale, Senior Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, to get his view on some of the larger pressures on the UK’s legal systems (and as a result, legal market) we have seen in the last 12 months.
For the last few years (at least until COVID took centre stage), Brexit has been the unavoidable, all-pervading elephant in the room when it comes to the law. The uncertainty surrounding the UK’s imminent exit from the EU has led to myriad questions and novel considerations for UK lawyers.
GJ: Chris, what do you see as key areas commercial lawyers should be considering in light of the inevitable changes to flow from Brexit?
CM: A fundamental change will be the UK’s exit from the EU ‘Single Market’ and the subsequent creation of a new UK Internal Market. For commercial lawyers this is likely to throw up new and interesting questions in areas such as barriers to trade, environmental regulation and agricultural standards and the regulation of state aid within the UK, that for a generation of UK lawyers have mostly been dealt with at the level of the EU.
There will likely be further bumps in the constitutional road ahead, especially as the devolved institutions (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) seem keen to align themselves with the EU on several of the contentious points that Boris Johnson’s UK government have pushed back on.
On the one hand, there is a real drive from the UK Parliament to ensure the UK will be negotiating from a unified position of strength, in order to secure the best deals possible with likely future trade partners (especially the US). On the other hand, Scotland in particular (given the backdrop of a push for independence by the current majority party in the Scottish Parliament) has an eye on the most likely route back into the EU, and as such are keen to keep pace with the development of EU law in devolved areas and to ensure the Brexit has no detrimental effect to the protection of the environment.
The UK will soon have the competence to do things they haven’t done for almost 50 years, not least in the creation a raft of new legislative and regulatory provisions across a number of key trade areas as well as the design and application of new enforcement mechanisms.
As such, there will likely be an urgent need for lawyers who have skill in negotiating trade deals or who have experience in regulation and enforcement in the areas described. If you are coming from a jurisdiction where you have had access to this type of work (Australian lawyers with experience of working closely with foreign governments or regulators, for example), then your skillset will likely be in high demand in the short term.
Ultimately, it is a very exciting opportunity for new generation of lawyers to shape the market. All of this, combined with the fact that a new trade agreement with the EU is still to be finalised ahead of the 31 December 2020 deadline will create work across the board for commercial lawyers forced to react to such fundamental changes to the legal landscape, likely at very short notice.
GJ: How has the advent of COVID-19 affected the constitutional law landscape?
CM: COVID has had an enormous impact on all facets of UK law, but perhaps the most tangible in the commercial sphere has been its effect on the movement of people and goods; two of the fundamental tenets of a successful open market. Commercial lawyers will have undoubtedly been affected by the inability to work as fluidly across borders as they have become accustomed to in the last half century.
This, aligned with the fact that the UK has see-sawed from prioritising public health (with little concern for ceding negotiating power to our international neighbours in many instances), to a fragmented and protectionist approach to the market (perhaps as a result of the view held by many that the government reacted too slowly to protect jobs and industry) has created a unique set of circumstances for constitutional lawyers. But for commercial lawyers too a range of interesting issues have arisen: from the application of force majeure to the anticipation of ‘known unknowns’ such as the emergence of novel viruses (and looking beyond COVID, of climate change) to the need to respond quickly to changing contractual capacities and needs.
Like Brexit, the future ramifications of COVID on the legal market are difficult to map; the only thing we can say for certain is that lawyers are going to have some very choppy waters to navigate in the coming years.
So, what does this mean for inbound UK-Recruitment?
In short, it is hard to say (at least in the short term!). At the very least, we hope that the above gives a little insight into the wider pressures law firms are facing at present. It is understandable that opportunistic lateral recruitment has slowed down (despite firms remaining extremely busy) – there is just too much uncertainty to be able to hire lawyers en-masse in the coming months.
This isn’t a death knell for international legal recruitment, however, far from it. As you will have seen above, there is real opportunity for lawyers who have an understanding of the ever changing landscape behind their deals to take the reins and carve out some exciting new agreements, across every practice area.
We firmly believe that once the dust settles on Brexit and COVID, we will be as busy as ever in assisting skilled international lawyers to leverage their experience in the UK.