Tax master

Matheson Ormsby Prentice’s new managing partner Liam Quirke is a secular evangelist and is scarily reminiscent of DLA’s Nigel Knowles for his ability to create a cult-like admiration at the top five Dublin firm.

“There’s this feeling inside that you can constantly improve and that we need to improve. The day I come in here and feel I can’t do better is the day I come home and never come back in again.” When he says this, there is a look in Quirke’s eye that says he means it, and if you do not agree you will be whisked away for re-education.

Quirke is only more terrifying when he is talking about tax, or in his terms “a tax-exempt unit trust to securitise rent income”. He may have a brain the size of a planet.

The growth of Quirke’s own tax practice has mirrored – and to a certain extent driven – the growth of MOP, the acronym by which the firm goes in Ireland. Ten years ago the firm was virtually nowhere, but it has powered right to the top of Ireland’s legal sector.

Ditto Quirke’s tax practice. He was brought in in 1991 from KPMG, of which he says: “I was the tax practice.” Then, in 1993, MOP did Chemical Bank’s (now JPMorgan Chase) first Irish non-mortgage-based securitisation on Olivetti’s trade receivables.

In fact, Quirke persuaded the Inland Revenue that the structure was legal and MOP spent the next decade advising the Inland Revenue on legislative change in the securitisation sector.

Quirk accepts the role of the tax practice in the firm’s growth, saying: “Tax was very important in the decision of foreign companies to come to Ireland.” However, he claims the key to MOP’s success is that each practice area has been encouraged to have its own client base, rather than act as a corporate function – the opposite of, say, Linklaters’ strategy.

Certain sectors were crying out for more competition, says Quirke, particularly insurance, where the firm expanded a few years ago. “At that time,” he says, “there were three bidders and an Irish target. Such was the perception in London of the lack of insurance capability, each of the bidders instructed A&L Goodbody, who all used James Grennan as a consultant using Chinese walls.” If true, then it puts Allen & Overy to shame.

Among Dublin’s big five, MOP is still the newcomer and the bastard child, but its progress over the last few years cannot be denied. And Quirke has a warning for the others: “I’d be interested to see how the firms cope with the slowdown, because there’s one coming.”