The Straight of Dover, which is about to get a bit wider. NASA photo.
The Straight of Dover, which is about to get a bit wider. NASA photo, via Wikimedia Commons.

A frequent scenario of late (I really do get this frequently):  I’ve just met another lawyer at…

  • an alumni association event,
  • dinner at a friend’s place,
  • in the lobby of the Kauffman Center during a Kansas City Symphony performance…

Hi, I’m (insert lawyer’s name here).  

Nice to meet you, I’m Aaron.  Tell me about your practice.

Oh, I handle (insert practice area here).  How about you?

Well, I handle all the goofy procedures in litigation that cross borders.  Primarily Hague Convention issues (and there are a whole bunch of those).

Hmmm.  That’s really interesting.  How do you think Brexit is going to affect what you do?

An insightful question.  And on the surface, it might seem pretty monumental– Brexit is rippling through the global economy like an Oklahoma tremor ripples through Kansas City.*  That is to say, it’s been relatively subtle so far– but we’re bracing for the Big One.

Still, my answer to the lawyer I’ve just met is usually, “it won’t.”  So the PM has called a snap election.  Big deal.

The sort of issues I handle– service of process abroad, foreign evidence compulsion, overseas enforcement of judgments– aren’t really a part of the European Union framework.  To be sure, if my clients were in the UK or on the continent there might be some shakeup, but I honestly don’t foresee the needle moving much in my line of work over the next two years (the timeframe for the UK’s invocation of Rome Article 50).  At least, not on the procedural end of things, and pretty much everything I do is procedural.

  • Service of US process will continue to be handled the same way across Europe– including the UK.
  • You still won’t be able to serve a subpoena with any teeth.  Full stop.
  • Your judgment will still have to be recognized and enforced by a foreign court before you can march into the defendant’s foreign bank and drain his account.
  • Eddie Izzard** will still perform in Paris and in Vienna.  He’ll just have his ID checked by a French cop before he gets on the Eurostar at St. Pancras.
  • And we yanks will still have to show a passport when we land at Heathrow or DeGaulle or Fiumicino or Schipol.  (At least, I hope it stays that simple.  Regardless… not a Brexit thing for us.)

Of course, there may be some longer term effects.  The absence of a free trade agreement may prompt Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, N.V. to pull its headquarters from London (Dodge boys might have more fun in Amsterdam?).  Other primarily continental outfits may do likewise.  This means it won’t be so simple to serve them (translation, possible Article 5 exclusivity, etc.).

More broadly, the EU may look more toward the US as a source for products and services that were previously offered by Britons and British companies (financial services come to mind as the primary industry) on a lower cost basis.  Those same Britons will look more to the US as a ripe market.  Likewise, the EU may look to the US in the same way.  Essentially, both the UK and the EU will pivot to the US as a partner.  This means that, as transatlantic commercial activity grows, so too will transatlantic litigation.

It all remains to be seen.

eddieizzard* Oklahoma and Kansas City are inextricably linked, thanks to Rogers and Hammerstein.  Everything’s like a dream in Kansas City.

** Holy executive transvestites, Batman!  This guy is funny.  If you get a chance to see him live, DO IT.  (My favorite Eddie Izzard bit is his riff on Darth Vader visiting the cafeteria on the Death Star.  Caution… Darth drops an F-bomb or two.)