Keeping home-grown talent home: avoiding the Brexit talent exodus

Brexit is one of the defining moments of this generation – particularly for the legal sector. As negotiations continue, however, the very real possibility of a talent exodus looms. Uncertainty, then, could see a significant efflux of legal talent to EU countries still able to trade with the continent – Ireland being a prime example.

For London, Brexit is proving somewhat of a challenge. In a recent interview, chief executive of Standard Chartered, Bill Winters, confirmed that “some of the best talent we can have in the UK marketplace is coming from students that have already chosen to study here and then stayed for some extended period afterwards… we’ve noticed that’s been impacted already.”

He continued, stating, “we have already had some setbacks for the talent pool through the restriction on student visas. That’s already a problem.” This is an issue by no means limited to one sector. A leading City lawyer, Johnathan Kembery of Freshfields, has now warned that graduates in Europe are increasingly unlikely to study law in the UK following the Brexit vote.

Kembery believes that “if you are a lawyer from Poland or Portugal and are thinking about postgraduate qualification, do you study law in the UK or go to New York to study? You are more than likely to go to the States, which is going to sap our ability to absorb talent – the critical thing our businesses depend upon is getting in talent.”

Indeed, in the 2016-17 year, over 25,000 students applied to study law in England and Wales, of whom 17,855 were accepted. Just under 10,000 overseas students applied, with 4,910 accepted. Overseas graduates, then, constitute almost 28% of the total graduate talent pool in the UK.

With more barriers to beginning a legal career in the UK, then, Kembery’s claim rings true. Students will quite simply go elsewhere if nothing is done. With existing legal firms and professionals in the UK, this university microcosm rings macro – the UK’s 311,000 strong legal industry is now seeking protection from Brexit.

TheCityUK, a representative of UK-based financial and professional services organisations, has released a report urging the government to “do more” about Brexit. Specifically, ensuring the UK remains a “jurisdiction of choice” for legal services.

The report identified that the UK legal sector’s trade surplus sat at almost £4bn in 2016, with overall revenue generated sat at £31.5bn in the same year. Just one place behind the US in terms of revenue fees, it is clear that the UK cannot afford a hit to revenues if it is to maintain its positioning on a global stage.

Avoiding a talent exodus is vital to ensure the integrity of the UK’s legal sector. For this to become a foregone conclusion in the face of an uncertain Brexit outcome, however, firms will increasingly need to focus on their employee value proposition (EVP).

Specifically, this shift will need to quantify not only why prospective legal talent should choose the UK as a destination of choice, but also why individual businesses are the ideal career choice compared to other EU countries such as Ireland, or even the US itself.