Small wonder

Eugene F Collins managing partner David Cantrell is in the first year of his second term at the firm, although like the US presidential candidates he is only entitled to three.

During his tenure, the firm has really found its niche. In the same way as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which recently employed consultants McKinsey, Eugene F Collins was not afraid ask for a few strategic pointers and called in the consultants a few years ago.
“Consultants will tell you the time by your own watch, but you just need to hear it from somebody else,” says Cantrell.

One of the main points of having the consultants was that it would not be the partners’ jobs to decide what colour the carpets should be. “The partners dedicated some of the responsibility of the day-to-day decision making to me. This allows them to get on with their jobs knowing that the rest of the stuff gets handled elsewhere.”

And Cantrell has not done a bad job of handling the rest of the stuff, because his firm is one of the favourite referral destinations for work that Dublin’s big five law firms – A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, Matheson Ormsby Prentice, McCann FitzGerald and William Fry – cannot take on.

One big five partner explained that not only do they get the obvious advantage that the job does not go to a competitor, but they know that thefirm will really look after the client.

In fact, Cantrell believes that, in some sectors, Eugene F Collins can take the big five on at their own game. He claims to be as good, if not better than, the competition (including the big five) in the firm’s core areas of corporate, banking, commercial property and intellectual property and IT.

“The one thing that is different is scale, nothing else. Our expertise is there, it’s purely a matter of scale.” What is undisputed is that the firm is a first choice, bar none, in the corporate recovery sector.

A key issue for smaller commercial firms such as Eugene F Collins, and for Dublin firms in general, is leverage rates. Ireland still has very low partner-assistant ratios, although firms such as A&L Goodbody have worked particularly hard to push assistant numbers up to a more Anglo-American level.

Cantrell brushes off the issue, saying: “I’m not loosing an awful lot of sleep over it.” He adds: “We never wished to aspire to the size of the big five, we want to strive to remain at a level where we can service our clients.”

So, when he steps down will the firm be a miniature clone of the big five? Two statements suggest he’s not following the Anglo-American model: “We do have a proper work-life balance” and “I don’t see us becoming a mercenary type firm.”