Fewer than one in 10 legal firms in a survey have actually made any preparatory changes for Brexit, though almost half believe that Brexit represents a direct and significant risk to their business going forward, according to a research paper published today.

The latest Bellwether research paper for LexisNexis UK, The Luxury of Uncertainty: Inaction in the face of Brexit, highlights overwhelming inaction on the part of independent law firms to prepare for Brexit, although 47% believe that leaving the European Union will significantly impact their business in the future.

This attitude appears to stem from the fact that most of the work handled by the legal sector is UK-centric: 95% of the work handled by the solicitors surveyed originates within the UK, with only one in five having any legal involvement outside the country.

The survey also found that 72% of respondents claim that their firm actively embraces change, and over a quarter think that Brexit will be an opportunity for their firms, rather than a challenge, when it finally takes place. The lack of preparation may also be reflected in the fact that 91% are confident about the future, while 78% believe that while there may be rough times ahead they are confident about their ability to react and adapt.

Further, changes are taking place across all areas of their businesses, from the 76% who are hiring more lawyers in 2018 or 2019 and the 73% who are increasing investment in technology, to the 61% of those surveyed who are either pursuing or planning to pursue modernisation by convincing key decision makers at their firms.

The report concludes: “The legal market’s collective attention is directed inwards, towards the challenges that have a concrete shape and a persistent presence in solicitors’ lives. The impending juggernaut of Brexit, in contrast, is a new and indistinct concern, without enough specific details on which to hook their worries. They have enough to deal with in the current marketplace.”

Jon Whittle, market development director at LexisNexis UK commented: “Clearly, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is a key factor in lawyers’ reticence to take concrete preparatory measures. It is of course understandable as there is little clarity on what the future will look like. There is frustration among lawyers about not knowing what will happen down the line; however the industry isn’t complacent – instead, it seems that the mental bandwidth of those involved is overwhelmed by the industry specific challenges – ones they have been struggling to deal with for years already and are still significant today.

“While concerned about the macro economic impact of Brexit and mindful of the future repercussions on their own business, independent lawyers have taken a ‘wait and watch’ approach on the basis that their business is primarily UK-centric. Patience is indeed a virtue, but there is a business rationale for having Brexit contingency plans in place to at least limit unnecessary blows to the business in the long run. Brexit isn’t a momentary event, it will unfold through the transition period.”

To access the report, go to www.lexisnexis.co.uk/brexit

  • Immigration law and recruitment experts are warning that Scottish businesses face a Brexit “skills time bomb” as the supply of skilled labour from European countries is cut off. Jamie Kerr, a partner and specialist in immigration law at Burness Paull, said too many businesses were adopting a “wait and see” mentality because of a perceived lack of information. “Saying ‘we’ll just wait and see because we’re all in the same boat’ is the wrong approach for businesses to take on Brexit. By doing nothing they face a skills time bomb, as the talent pool dries up.” Future restrictions on EU nationals coming to the UK, together with a likely salary threshold for employee sponsorship, meant there would be “an inevitable restriction for skilled workers” Businesses needed “to look at the bigger picture and how they can ensure access to the staff they need. Some businesses are aware of this issue, but they’re not really looking at it in detail and taking action”.