A little over three decades after the Law Society of England and Wales first planted its flag in Brussels, the legal body has decided to close its office in Belgium’s capital.
The closure was first announced in a LinkedIn post by David Greene, the Law Society of England and Wales’ former president.
The decision to close the Brussels office was made by David McNeill, the Law Society of England and Wales’ director of public affairs, who told Law.com International that the move should not be seen as a goodbye to the EU. “The decision is not a signal that we are abandoning work relating to the EU,” he said. “We are simply transferring the remaining EU work to the team in London.”
Founded in the early 1990s, the professional association’s Brussels office monitors developments and represents solicitors in negotiations with the European institutions. It also raises awareness on EU legislation and policies that are relevant to the legal profession and lawyers’ main areas of practice.
Since the UK’s departure from the EU in January 2020 and the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020, the Brussels team’s workload has dropped while that of the London office’s international team has ballooned.
Under the 2020 EU-UK trade deal, the UK legal profession’s market access in EU member countries is coordinated on a bilateral basis. “This means that the international team in London has taken on negotiations with 27 member states and many more bar associations within those states,” McNeill explained in an email to Law.com International.
Since the EU institutions moreover have limited competence over legal services enshrined in the UK-EU trade deal, the value of having a physical presence in Brussels has diminished, McNeill said. “The much smaller number of important EU issues means that a much smaller team with largely the same level of fixed costs is not financially viable, when the work can be transferred back to London,” he said.
The Brussels office currently employs four people. The Law Society of England and Wales’ press officer Naomi Jeffreys declined to confirm whether they would be made redundant, describing it as a staff-in-confidence matter.
The office is set to close in November 2022.