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With a first-look at the UK-EU trade deal that was signed on Christmas Eve, the news is both good and bad for legal professionals, according to analysis published in The Law Society Gazette.

Jonathan Goldsmith, Law Society Council member for EU matters and a former secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, has offered his evaluation of the trade deal from a legal perspective.

Law is one of only a handful of industries given specific coverage in the deal, along with delivery, telecommunications, international maritime transport and financial services. As the agreement largely covers trade in goods, it is notable that legal services are highlighted in this way.

Such recognition raises the profile of legal services in terms of UK overseas trade, and marks ‘a win for our profession’, indicating that legal services will be covered in future trade deals with other countries. 

However, Goldsmith points to changes in solicitors’ EU market access as a potentially negative outcome.

Previously, solicitors had extensive access to EU legal markets with a suite of rights broader than that granted anywhere else to solicitors abroad.

But footnotes in the terms of the deal suggest that there will not now be harmonised EU-wide rights and that individual member states will keep their existing rules for how third country lawyers may practise in their jurisdiction. The details of the deal are complex but the Law Society has promised to offer new guidance to the profession in due course. 

The report notes that there are important areas of the law not covered by the deal, including the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, civil justice and the provisions on domestic regulation or intra-corporate transferees.

Goldsmith concludes:

“The question is whether the good and the bad balance. Yes, legal services are included, which is excellent. But the provisions themselves do not amount to much more than would have been available without a deal. Since Brexit is about so much more than legal services, the final judgement depends on how you regard Brexit in the first place, as a loss of rights or as a gateway to a brighter global future.”

You can read the full analysis here.