The steady stream of international law firms opening in Ireland shows no sign of subsiding.
Since the beginning of the year, Addleshaw Goddard and Bird & Bird have joined the likes of Taylor Wessing, Hogan Lovells, and Linklaters in Dublin.
To an outsider, it might appear as if the Irish legal market is in danger of becoming overcrowded. But partners insist that the increased variety is welcomed by clients—and evidence of what one partner calls a “maturing” legal landscape.
Nevertheless, cultural differences would appear inevitable. A market that has traditionally been dominated by a handful of firms—A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, Mason Hayes & Curran, Matheson, etc.—has undergone a period of rapid change. So what’s next for Ireland’s lawyers and their clients?
New Kids on the Block
According to Anna Morgan, who joined Bird & Bird in May to open the firm’s Dublin office, approximately 20 firms have joined the Irish legal market in the last five or six years. This, she said, has “brought a different dynamism to the existing status quo.”
Bird & Bird, the newest arrival, opened its doors earlier this month. Morgan, who joined with Matheson partner Deirdre Kilroy, said the office hopes to hire five partners and 25 staff over the next three years, although she says they wonder whether they should set their sights higher, given the level of interest so far.
“We were approached by people before the job ads even went up,” she said.
In November 2020, the Law Society of Ireland issued a decision that solicitors from England and Wales can only practice Irish law from “a physical establishment in Ireland.” At the time, one partner at a U.K. firm described establishing a presence in Ireland as the “logical” solution.
Another new entrant, Addleshaw Goddard, also has ambitious plans for growth. Earlier this year, the firm announced a merger with local firm Eugene F Collins and said it is planning to double its Dublin income and head count by 2025.
That firm’s former managing partner, Mark Walsh, has become Addleshaws’ head of Ireland. He said that when he was still at Eugene F Collins, he was approached by other firms—both domestic and international—that expressed interest in a merger.
“The reaction to the merger has been really positive. People have been very curious, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other firms follow our lead and copy that model,” he said.
It’s not just international law firms that have made inroads: The Big Four’s EY Law opened in Dublin last year and hired Alan Murphy, the former Ireland managing partner of Eversheds Sutherland, to head the office.
“By the end of the summer we will have 20 lawyers,” Murphy said. “We’ll be adding a high-net-worth private client team later in the summer. The market really is hot right now.”
Jostling for Position
With so many new arrivals, it’s no wonder that the war for talent is particularly fierce in Ireland.
“There is a limited pool of lawyers in the market with higher-end experience for dealing with international matters and transactions,” said Niall Pelly, head of the Dublin office of employment law firm GQ Littler.
“The domestic firms are under pressure when it comes to retention—Dentons and DLA Piper have both been quite successful in terms of attracting lawyers from top domestic firms, so it’s definitely a direction of travel.”
However, Ann Lalor, head of Pinsent Masons’ Dublin office, said she didn’t think the firms that recently entered the Irish market had employed a lot of people locally.
“Firms are coming in for different reasons,” she said. “There aren’t many which have a full-service offering as we do. Often, the international firms aren’t as expanded in terms of practice areas.”
Pelly added that associates thinking of joining the larger international firms will need reassurance of a long-term vision: “The most important thing for lawyers is stability. So are [these firms] committed to the market or testing the water?”
Meanwhile, Adam Griffiths, head of Taylor Wessing’s Dublin office, said some firms had failed to fully appreciate the ways in which the Irish legal market had changed in recent years.
“A lot of city firms have failed to see the growth of Ireland as having its distinct ecosystem,” he said. “In 1980, the Irish median income was a third less than the U.K., and now it’s more. This is fueled by good quality jobs in the sectors that we’re strong in, and the explosive growth in tech corporates.”
To be sure, firms that recently entered the market have taken a range of approaches.
Linklaters registered a business in Dublin in February 2021 and a person with knowledge of the firm said the work it has done out of the city is only international work—not domestic Irish work.
Meanwhile, Eoin O’Connor, who was hired as managing partner of Hogan Lovells’ Dublin office in October 2021, said the team there would be moving into a permanent office in the city centre before September of this year that will hold about 30 people.
Irish firms have their eye on what firms like Linklaters and Hogan Lovells might have planned.
“We by no means take any of the competition for granted,” said Geoff Moore, managing partner at Arthur Cox. “Part of my job is to stay paranoid about the opposition.”
Shaking Things Up
Hogan Lovells’ O’Connor believes the industry had been crying out for the addition of international firms.
“Clients like that there is more choice,” he said. “The Irish market had been missing this. People had become used to working with domestic firms and having to work with international firms as well.”
Morgan agreed that the arrival of international firms had been a positive development, and pointed to the fact that she and Kilroy were hired by Bird & Bird to launch the new office.
“There’s a lack of hierarchy which might have been associated with the long-established firms,” she said. “Not every firm would have appointed two female partners to open a new office, for instance.”
Morgan added that the influx of firms might also shake up more established firms to become more progressive and diverse.
Murphy at EY Law said it will be particularly interesting to see over the next five years how the dynamic among the various firms in Dublin plays out.
“There’s perhaps an attempt by the larger indigenous firms to dismiss what the international firms do, but we always welcome competition,” he said. “It’s good—it keeps you on your toes.”