Why law firms need to be thinking about European expansion

23 May 2018

Against the backdrop of Brexit, law firms should be looking to create a strategy, build relationships and develop partnerships in Europe.

Businesses appear to be taking the lead and looking to expand their operations into Europe, but UK law firms are taking their time to react to the impact of Brexit. While clearly there are risks from being the first mover, an ever growing risk is that firms wishing to expand in Europe will leave it too late and be left behind.

This was the theme of a seminar held by Smith & Williamson on April 24, which brought together representatives from leading UK and Irish law firms, as well as the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and the Paul Keane of Reddy Charlton.

Markets with shared strengths

Continental Europe is home to three of the top 10 worldwide economies; Germany, Italy and France and has some fast growing economies such as Ireland. Combined the EU is in a prime position when it comes to global trade, not least because of the talent on offer, the conditions for business and access to the market.

However, there are significant cultural, legal and fiscal differences between the UK and the rest of Europe which is leaving law firms, wondering what to do and where to position themselves to gain access to this key market.

Ireland in a Brexit context: the right place, the right time?

Brexit will have an impact on the Irish economy, the scale of which will depend to some extent on the success or otherwise of the UK Government in negotiating the post Brexit arrangements, but the economies are inextricably linked. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has calculated that for every 1% drop in GDP in Britain, 0.3% is shaved off the Irish economy.

The competition between European cities and capitals for businesses from the UK or international businesses looking at alternate or additional locations to the UK has begun and is intense.

However, the Irish market is already one step ahead of all its competitors.London to Dublin is already the busiest air route in Europe while the cultural, commercial and business ties between these two nations are not insignificant. In addition, Ireland has a thriving economy so not only may it prove to be culturally and strategically a good location, domestically the financial opportunity looks strong.

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Giles Murphy

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