United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) International Trade in Legal Services

United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) International Trade in Legal Services


Is there legislation governing the legal sector

Solicitors (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, as amended 16 July 2009.

Under what title do lawyers practise?

Solicitor or barrister

How does an individual lawyer obtain a "licence" to practise law? How often must this be renewed?





In order to become a solicitor, a candidate must demonstrate (a) that he/she possesses an acceptable law degree (b) has successfully completed the one year course at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies or the Graduate School of Professional Legal Education (c) has completed a two year traineeship with an approved Master. After satisfying these conditions an individual may enrol with the Law Society, and after enrolment apply for a practising certificate.  In order to become a barrister, a candidate must have obtained a recognised University law degree and passed an entrance examination to attend the one year degree course of Barrister-at-law at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queens University Belfast. After successfully completing the one year postgraduate degree course at the Institute, candidates may be called to the Bar following which they must complete a one year pupillage with a barrister in independent practice before they can be fully licensed to become a barrister.

Does this entitle the holder to practise throughout the country? If the law license only permits one to practice on a sub-national level, please explain the jurisdictional limits

The United Kingdom is made up of three separate jurisdictions: England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and lawyers must be licensed separately for each jurisdiction.

Are there certain activities that are "reserved" to those who are licensed to practise law in the jurisdiction?





The Solicitors (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 reserves the use of the title of solicitor to those who are qualified and licensed by the Law Society of Northern Ireland. Reserved activities for solicitors include: (a) Preparation of any instrument of transfer or charge or any other document for the purposes of the Land Registration Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 [1970 c.18] or any enactment repealed or proposed to be repealed by that Act; (b)drawing or preparation of any instrument relating to real or personal estate, or any legal proceeding; or (c)lodging of any instrument or other document for registration in the Land Registry or the Registry of Deeds, or the making of any application (other than an application to search in, or to receive copies of or extracts from, a register) to the Registrar of Titles.

Do you need to hold local nationality to be eligible to practise law?


What legal forms can lawyers work in? (e.g. self employment, partnership, limited liability partnership, multi-disciplinary partnership, incorporation)

Northern Irish solicitors may work as sole practitioners or in general or limited liability partnerships with other Northern Irish solicitors.

What other ethical or regulatory requirements must a licensed lawyer comply with? 

The main ethical requirements are set out in the Solicitors’ Practice Regulations 1987.

Do law firms need to receive a "license" (or permission/approval) to practice law?

No, licences are issued only to individuals.

Which authority issues licences? Are there different authorities for individuals and firms? 

Law Society of Northern Ireland licences and regulates solicitors and law firms (www.lawsoc-ni.org) and the Honourable Society of the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland governs the rules applying to barristers. Under the constitution of the Honourable Society, the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland admits barristers who are then regulated by the Bar Council of Northern Ireland (for more details see www.barlibrary.com)



Are there any explicit rules or restrictions other than visas on fly in fly out practice of law? Ie. Do you need to obtain a licence for temporary practice?

No explicit rules or limitations on temporary practice outside of the reserved areas of work.

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a visa to visit clients or to market but not to practice?

Foreign lawyers may obtain a visa to visit clients but may also obtain special 'permitted paid employment' visas which are valid for up to one month without the need to obtain a work permit. 

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a licence to establish and practise as a foreign legal consultant and what is the scope of this limited licence?

There is no requirement for a foreign lawyer to obtain a licence to practice as a foreign legal consultant. The only licensing requirements are on EEA lawyers (who must become Registered European Lawyers - a status which entitles them to practise in the reserved areas of the law of England and Wales).

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled once a foreign lawyer has been granted a limited licence (e.g. residency requirement)

Registered European Lawyer status is only required of EEA or Swiss lawyers resident in Northern Ireland.

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled for a foreign lawyer to qualify for a limited licence? (e.g. prior practice)

Following the Establishment Directive (98/5/EC) Registered European Lawyers must have three years prior practice experience before they can establish in the UK. There are no other prior conditions on other (unregistered) foreign lawyers wishing to practise in Northern Ireland.

Are foreign lawyers permitted to undertake arbitration and mediation?


Are foreign lawyers allowed to appear in court under any circumstances?


EEA and Swiss lawyers may appear in courts in Northern Ireland if introduced by a Northern Irish barrister.

Can foreign lawyers requalify as local lawyers?


Foreign lawyers may requalify in Northern Ireland through prior requalification in England and Wales or Ireland. EU, EFTA or Swiss lawyers may requalify through articles 2 or 10 of the Establishment Directive for lawyers (98/5/EC)


Can a foreign law firm obtain a licence to open an office?

Foreign law firms do not require licences to open offices to practise law in Northern Ireland, provided they are not practising reserved areas of work and are not fee sharing with Northern Irish solicitors or barristers.  

Even if a foreign law firm does not require a legal licence must they register in some form in order to set up an office? (e.g. with a ministry of company affairs etc)

 No special permission is required to set up a business in the UK.

Are there different types of foreign law firm 'licence'  (e.g. Joint Law Venture, stand alone foreign licence etc)

There is no separate foreign law firm licensing process . A non-Northern Irish law firm could either set up to practise in non-reserved areas of legal work with foreign lawyers or unlicensed Northern Irish lawyers, or it could establish as a separate, regulated Northern Irish firm containing only Northern Irish solicitors.

Is there a quota on the number of licences available?


Are there geographical restrictions on foreign firm licences or on the number of branches a foreign firm can have?

There is no limit on the number of branches a foreign firm may have in the UK but if it wished to undertake reserved work, it would require separate authorisation in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and different requirements and rules would apply.

Are there "scope of practice" rules that apply directly to foreign law firms (as opposed to lawyers themselves)? (e.g. home, host, international law), if so, what are they? There are no scope of practice rules that apply to firms as opposed to individual lawyers.
Are there restrictions on the corporate form a foreign law firm can take? Foreign law firms are unrestricted in the form they can take (subject to general company law). EEA and Swiss law firms can only take the forms permitted to Northern Irish solicitors.
Are there rules about the name a foreign law firm can take?

There are no specific rules for the names of foreign law firms beyond the general naming provisions governing all businesses.

What entity grants a 'license' to a foreign law firm? If that entity is on the Internet, please provide the URL There is no specific foreign law licence but EEA firms should register with the Law Society of Northern Ireland (www.lawsoc-ni.org)


Are there restrictions on the ownership share of foreign lawyers in a law firm?

There is a prohibition on fee sharing with non-Northern Irish solicitors which prevents foreign lawyers from sharing in law firm ownership in Northern Ireland, however, section 28(d) of the Solicitors (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 provides that fee sharing with non-Northern Irish solicitors is permitted "where an agreement for sharing fees is made between a solicitor in Northern Ireland and a person carrying on the practice or profession of the law in some other part of the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth or in the Republic of Ireland or in a foreign country".

May a domestic lawyer be employed by a foreign lawyer or law firm?


Can a domestic lawyer enter into partnership with a foreign lawyer?

No - there is a prohibition on fee sharing with non-Northern Irish solicitors but this doesn’t apply outside of Northern Ireland.

Can a domestic lawyer or domestic law firm employ a foreign lawyer?




Other useful sources or comments or links

For Law Society of Northern Ireland: http://www.lawsoc-ni.org/

For Bar Library: www.barlibrary.com