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London’s megafirms train up youngsters in EU law as they boost Brexit teams

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Teams of solicitors being assembled all over the City to advise on EU treaty renegotiation

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A higher-than-usual number of trainees qualifying at London’s top law firms in the next few months may find themselves specialising in EU law — as the legal profession goes wild for Brexit and all its possibilities.

The likes of Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Clifford Chance and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have, according to the Financial Times (£), all created specialist teams to advise on the ensuing legal chaos if Britain leaves the European Union.

Even if the nation opts to stay, just the possibility of a Brexit will generate work as clients make contingency plans, while the high likelihood of at least some kind of treaty negotiation will surely generate fees too.

With an in-out referendum possible as early as June, these firms’ “Brexit units” — which are apparently being led by 5-10 partners, and boast a total of around 50 lawyers each — are the place to be for rookies with a taste for EU law.

Legal Cheek contacted Hogan Lovells to hear more about its Brexit group and the possibilities for trainees seeking to forge careers in this area. Susan Bright, regional managing partner for the UK and Africa, told us:

It’s a great time for trainees and junior lawyers joining the profession. Whether the UK decides to stay or to go, it is clear that our relationship within or with the EU is going to change. Whatever the outcome, this will throw up a range of issues likely to cause additional work across many practice areas. The opportunities at Hogan Lovells are particularly interesting given the strength of our public law and policy practice, which is a market leader in administrative and public law and parliamentary and public affairs.

Bright went on to explain that the team has been handling Brexit-type issues for some time now in the context of the constitutional changes already underway within the UK — for example, advising The Crown Estate on the implementation of the new Scottish devolution settlement. She added:

We would expect there to be an enormous amount of this type of work if Brexit were to occur as the UK sought to replace and amend the extensive EU-derived laws and regulations embedded in our legal system and to develop new frameworks to govern its relationships around the world.

This chimes with the view of Norton Rose Fulbright associate Amanda Town, who told students last autumn at Commercial Awareness Question Time about the huge demand for advice that uncertainty about the UK’s EU status would generate.

Other top EU solicitors and barristers who we have spoken to privately have expressed concern about a potential “huge shortage” of EU law specialists this year. But slightly concerningly for young lawyers looking to specialise in this area, they have also noted that the shortage may be only short term and could pretty soon turn to a glut once all the work has been done.

Happily, the rookies drafted into big firms’ Brexit teams will be asked to advise on EU law in the context of a host of other practice areas, like tax, company law, employment, regulation and IP. So there should be plenty of other avenues to take once all this has settled down.