On March 29, 2017, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was triggered, marking the beginning of a two-year negotiation between the government of the United Kingdom and the European Union. Though this brings Brexit one step closer to becoming reality, it leaves many businesses across the globe in limbo as they nervously wait to see if and how the biggest demerger in history will affect them.
It could be said that, of all the world's global financial capitals, London has the most at stake here. London is used by many global law firms as an entry point to Europe, and the UK's government data show there are more European headquarters of non-EU corporations located there than anywhere else in the world. Restrictions on UK and EU immigration could have a huge impact on the size of the talent pool from which these London-based firms can recruit.
Research released by the UK-specific LinkedIn site earlier this year confirmed fears of a Brexit talent drain. Interest in UK-based jobs from general overseas professionals decreased between May and July 2016 by 10 percent generally and by 18 percent for EU talent. Interest in legal industry jobs from EU talent declined by 12 percent. Intensifying the effects of this downward swing is an increasing number of UK graduates seeking work abroad (almost 14 percent of their total job searches).
Law firms’ fears of losing access to skilled European workers are real, but there are ways that both employers and employees can prepare for and minimize the effects of a Brexit brain drain.
How to Prevent a Talent Drain
The first step is to assess how the talent drain could affect your firm. Analyze where your talent has come from previously, whether it was sourced domestically or globally. This information can help to pinpoint vulnerabilities and give you the tools to formulate longterm hiring strategies. Anticipate any potential gaps in your workforce resulting from current employees moving to another EU country. Be a few steps ahead of these gaps and have a plan in place to fill them.
If the UK government reneges on its offer to allow EU nationals living in the UK prior to the referendum to stay, your firm can retain skilled employees by assisting with visa applications and costs. Conduct an audit of your workforce to determine who will be at risk from changes to free movement in and out of the UK. Assuage any potential fears or concerns these employees may have by telling them the firm intends to assist them.
Keeping employees in the loop with issues around Brexit will be crucial to maintaining stability during this time of uncertainty. Alert them to any changes that could affect them or the business. Maintain an open-door policy in your human resources (HR) department so concerned employees can seek advice.
One way to attract top-level candidates is to make your firm as appealing as possible. Use platforms like LinkedIn and company blogs to advertise a positive corporate culture. Help senior lawyers and management teams establish themselves as thought leaders in the legal industry by allocating them time to author articles, post on social media and speak at industry events. Elevating your firm's online profile will help get you on the radar of top-level recruits.
Firms can prevent a long-lasting talent drain by investing in and developing domestic talent. Offer training to your current workforce so they can upskill and fill any gaps left by a loss of European workers. In the long term, look to schools and universities attended by top domestic candidates in the past. Work with them to structure courses and degrees around the skills graduates need to be fully prepared to enter the legal profession.
Create a mentorship program for recent graduates and senior lawyers. Host networking events to give young people plenty of opportunity to develop the skills they will need to succeed. By helping to grow this next generation, your firm will strengthen its talent pipeline over the coming decades.
However, employers should not show preference toward non-EU citizens in their hiring processes. All employers in the UK are subject to the Equality Act 2010, which stipulates that job applicants must not be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality. Anticipating a future decision regarding European immigration, and then rejecting a candidate based on this assumption, would be unlawful.
U.S. or global firms that have only a UK presence will be more affected by a restricted talent pool and might need to look to long-term partnerships with EU mainland firms. Alternatively, they might need to establish their own offices. Many companies will continue to have their head office in the UK but might consider growing their EU branches to where they become a European headquarters.
Preparing for an Uncertain Future
While the onus of creating stability amid uncertainty around Brexit is on the UK government and employers, legal professionals can still take immediate steps to plan for the future.
If you are an employee in the legal industry who is concerned about the effects of changes to EU and UK immigration laws, consult an immigration lawyer or one who specializes in Brexit. If you are an EU national and would like to remain in the UK, research the costs associated with visas and citizenship applications. Discuss these with your firm's HR department and ask if they would cover all or part of the costs. If you are more inclined to relocate to another European country because of Brexit, then now is the time to update your resume, LinkedIn profile, and references.
Because of how much we don't know about the effects of Brexit, avoid making any hasty decisions. Even though Article 50 has been triggered, it will take up to two years for Britain to negotiate the terms of the demerger. Only at the end of the process will workers be able to assess how Brexit will affect their employment.
This article was first published in ILTA's Summer 2017 issue of Peer to Peer titled "Future Focused: Planning Ahead' and is reprinted here with permission. For information about ILTA, visit www.iltanet.org.