2016 saw steady growth for offshore firms and the offshore market generally. There were new office openings in different jurisdictions, mergers between firms and the usual associate/partner moves between firms.
"We saw some fairly significant global events which sent ripples through the offshore world. In April the “Panama Papers” leak hit the press, followed by the “Brexit” vote in June and Trump’s election in November," said Ken Okumura, Manager of Legal Private Practice at Robert Walters.
On a more localised scale, BVI and Cayman have been working on respective pieces of legislation for regulating the legal profession, while Guernsey is introducing Housing legislation that will potentially restrict the ability of employers to retain non-resident employees beyond five years unless they are granted a Long Term Employment Permit when they arrive.
There is an adequate (but still not plentiful) supply of potential new recruits from Onshore to Offshore, and an interesting side-effect of the Brexit vote has been a number of candidates directly citing the outcome of the referendum as a reason why they are now looking abroad.
The impact of the revelations from the Panama Papers leak has been less direct than might have been initially anticipated (other than for Mossack Fonseca itself and the individuals implicated in actual wrongdoing). Short term, there has not been any rash political action that would jeopardise the Offshore world, but it’s likely that there will be a lot more scrutiny and enforcement of existing regulatory provisions in the Offshore jurisdictions to avoid any more high-profile scandals in the future.
Some firms have noticed there has been some adverse reaction from clients and banks that are now reluctant to use BVI vehicles or lend to BVI companies. The long-term effect of this remains to be seen.
The surprise result of Britain’s EU referendum saw a fairly significant “wobble” in confidence across the Onshore and Offshore markets, with immediate suspension of processes at some firms and a re-evaluation of hiring needs from others. The overall effect was to bring the normal August lull forward into late June/July and before activity began returning to normal once again in September and October.
"The impact of Trump’s victory in the American presidential race was less noticeable but it remains to be seen if there are any ramifications once he has been in office for a longer period," continued Okumura.
Further international offshore expansion included several mergers: Walkers merging with Guernsey firm AO Hall to give it full coverage in the Channel Islands, Collas Crill merging with BVI firm Farara Kerins to give it BVI coverage, and several office openings separate from those mergers including Carey Olsen opening in Hong Kong, hot on the heels of their new Singapore office and Campbells also opening there.
After the BVI has finally seen the Legal Profession Act come into force in 2015, 2016 saw a number of hastily-enacted amendments, sections put on hold and talk of further amendments. There remains quite a lot of uncertainty but, from a hiring point of view, the position is currently back to how it was prior to the introduction of the act (anyone admitted in England & Wales can be admitted without any PQE restrictions). This is likely to change to the proposed transitional 3PQE minimum and, ultimately, to 5PQE. When that will happen is still uncertain however.
The Cayman Islands have taken steps towards the proposed Legal Practitioners Bill becoming law (although it is not clear when it will actually be enacted). The Bill has a number of potentially concerning points for non-Caymanian law firms; in order to practice Cayman law anywhere in the world, the lawyer must work for a Cayman law firm or an affiliate.
"To qualify as a Cayman law firm or an affiliate thereof, the firm (and affiliates) must have voting control vested in Cayman Island resident lawyers or lawyers with Caymanian status," said Okumura. Admission to practice is changing as well. Caymanian residency will no longer be required, just the requirement to work for an affiliate of a Cayman law firm.
For overseas hires, the core requirement for having been admitted in England & Wales for at least 3 years will carry through, but the ability for Commonwealth qualified jurisdictions is omitted (unless it is subsequently permitted via supplemental regulations – something that is provided for).
2017 has enjoyed an encouraging start, with hiring levels returning to pre-Brexit levels and strong interest from candidates looking to move to offshore firms. There are particularly good opportunities for Corporate, Funds, Finance and Disputes lawyers of all levels to make a move, and there has been an increase in demand for Real Estate lawyers as well.
There is always demand for able and personable qualified solicitors and barristers who are qualified in England & Wales, Australia, New Zealand and Canada to make the move to the offshore firms.
For a confidential discussion about the possibilities, please contact Ken Okumura - Head of Offshore at Robert Walters.