Irish firms kept their heads down last year with few new practice developments. Instead they have been busy making money. “The level of profit of the top eight firms has mushroomed, says one leading partner. “A lot of partners are making London-style amounts.”
Firms such as A&L Goodbody are reckoned to have a turnover in the range of IR£18m with Arthur Cox's turnover estimated to be about IR£15m and Matheson Ormsby Prentice's approximately £11m.
One of the few initiatives taken by the firms has been the recruitment of new lawyers. A number have been persuaded to return from English practices to firms such as Arthur Cox, which recruited five from the UK. Mason Hayes & Curran managed to persuade two English lawyers to join while Ivor Fitzpatrick took on ex-Wilde Sapte partner Andrew Beer as a commercial property partner.
Recruitment remains a perennial problem with demand now much greater than supply. as a result, 80 per cent of the top firms have taken on more trainees this year than last.
On the management front, McCann Fitzgerald has adopted a new structure and appointed a chairman, Ronan Maloney, who took over from William Earley at the beginning May. The response to the move from competitors is positive. Maloney is currently reviewing the firm.
The only firm to open an office abroad last year was Matheson Ormsby Prentice, which headed to Palo Alto, US. “We opened in Silicon Valley because we have a lot of existing work,” explains MOP's managing partner Donal Roche. “We act for a lot of computer companies and we thought we'd develop this by having someone on the ground.”
Meanwhile, William Fry still has not replaced London resident partner Aishling O'Farrell who returned to Dublin some time ago. Managing partner Brian O'Donnell denies that the office has closed down and says it is “relocating to another address”.
A&L Goodbody has become the second law firm to open an office in the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). Two partners will run the office, which will specialise in financial services work.
There have been no significant mergers or moves, but firms are keeping an eye on the two mergers of the previous year, that of Rory O'Donnell with Murray Sweeney and Dillon Eustace with Kevans
The general opinion is that, so far, neither have set the world on fire. However, neither have had much time to do so, and it looks like its a question of simply waiting and seeing. David Dillon says the Dillon Eustace merger with Kevans was “nothing desperately dramatic but it has given us a profile in work outside the IFSC”.
Cross-border initiatives have also been rather slow in the past year with no new firms getting aboard the Northern Ireland train. Although McCann Fitzgerald and William Fry have looked at moving north, various facts including the political situation, have persuaded them against taking that step for the time being.