The number of new admissions to the Roll of Solicitors soared last year thanks to a deluge of applicants from England and Wales seeking a "Brexit backstop" to avoid losing business.
The first-ever annual report of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, laid before the Oireachtas, shows that in 2019, there was a total of 2,381 new admissions to the Roll of Solicitors —"almost double the total for the previous year".
According to the report: "Traditionally, newly qualified solicitors graduating from the Law Society’s Professional Practice Course have accounted for the majority of admissions to the Roll each year.
"However, these qualifying trainees accounted for just 17% of last year’s total, with 419 admissions.
"Solicitors categorised by the Law Society as foreign lawyers accounted for 1,934 of the overall total, making up 81% of Roll admissions in 2019."
"This unprecedented and dramatic growth of the Roll is largely attributable to solicitors from England and Wales seeking a 'Brexit-backstop' amid concerns that the United Kingdom’s pending departure from the European Union will lead to losses in international business and legal protections."
It said 2019 saw a spike in Brexit-admissions to the Roll, with 1,836 England and Wales qualified solicitor entrants, compared to 690 in 2018, and that the Roll of Solicitors reached a milestone in the middle of 2019 with 20,000 names entered on it — the first time this figure has been reached, according to the Law Society.
As recently as 2014 there were just 67 new admissions by foreign lawyers to the Roll of Solicitors.
According to the annual report: "up to mid-November 2019 a total of 1,912 solicitors on the Irish Roll of Solicitors worked for what the Law Society ranked as the “Top 20 UK ‘Brexit Transfer’ Firms”, up from 968 in 2018. Only three of these had offices in this jurisdiction in 2019; Eversheds Sutherland LLP, DLA Piper LLP and Pinsent Mason LLP."
It added that last December "the trend for admissions to the Roll by England and Wales qualified solicitors was abating somewhat".
The overall number of solicitors with practising certificates also increased last year.
"The Law Society in its submission described as an ‘extraordinary development’ the fact that almost 20% of all the names on the Roll of Solicitors at the end of 2019 were practitioners who qualified in England and Wales and whose names were added to the Roll since 1 January 2016."
The annual report also showed that the number of practising barristers in Ireland remains high by international standards, but noted: "The Bar of Ireland in its submission asserted that getting paid is a significant factor in a barrister being unable to sustain and develop a career at the bar.
"It said its Council had entered into an arrangement with a third-party provider, LawServ, in 2014 to assist its members to collect fees from solicitors.
"Data provided by LawServ showed that 42% of cases for non-payment of counsel fees arose from a lack of cooperation from the solicitor that may result in a complaint being made to the regulator."
The LRSA took submissions from stakeholders, which includes criticism of the FE-1 qualifying exams, with some arguing that it favours people from wealthier backgrounds in that it is easier for them to pay the required fees and thereby qualify sooner.