City firms circling Irish counterparts for EU foothold

Dublin: Huge influx of English and Welsh solicitors

Most of the large Irish law firms have been approached about a merger with a UK counterpart in the past year as City firms look to establish a foothold in the post-Brexit EU, it has emerged.

Separately, it was announced that a record number of English and Welsh solicitors have been admitted to the roll in Ireland over the past year.

A survey by accountancy firm Smith & Williamson found that 80% of Ireland’s top 20 firms were approached by UK firms with a view to a merger or acquisition or a strategic representation arrangement.

It said: “Well-known UK law firm brands have been steadily emerging in the Irish market, with a notable acceleration in the last 12 months. Dublin appears to be the location of choice for UK firms wishing to establish a presence in Ireland.

“The merger of McDowell Purcell with FieldFisher and the opening by DLA Piper of a Dublin office in 2019, followed the greenfield setup of Pinsent Masons, Simmons & Simmons and Lewis Silkin in 2018.”

However, while the threat of UK law firms entering the market has grown as a concern among Irish firms generally, the survey found that it has decreased in importance for the top 20.

“With a number of UK and international firms now well established, top 20 firms may better understand the competitive threat they represent. Perhaps they are not as disruptive a force at the top end of the market as previously thought?”

Smith & Williamson noted that there was “certainly some fear” about the Big 4 accountancy firms entering the market, with rumours of mergers or acquisitions abounding.

The survey found Brexit depressing confidence among Irish firms, with 67% of the top 20 viewing the UK’s departure from the EU as a threat to their revenues.

Since 2016, an increasing number of solicitors from England and Wales have been qualifying in Ireland to protect their position post-Brexit.

Figures from the Law Society of Ireland revealed that 1,817 solicitors were admitted to the Irish roll in the last practising year, nearly as many as in the previous three years combined.

In mid-2019, the number of names on the Irish roll of solicitor reached 20,000 for the first time – around a fifth of these were practitioners who originally qualified in England and Wales, and whose names have been entered on the roll since 1 January 2016.

Some 206 Linklaters solicitors were admitted in Ireland in the year, the biggest increase of any firm; it now has 259, although only 17 of them have practising certificates.

It trails Allen & Overy as the overseas firm with the largest number of qualified Irish solicitors (297), of whom 183 have practising certificates.

The four other firms with more than 100 Irish solicitors were Eversheds Sutherland (165 on the roll, 62 practising certificates), Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (162, 64), US firm Latham & Watkins (161, 18) and Slaughter and May (148, 20).

Also in the top 20 ‘Brexit transfer’ firms were Google UK (38 solicitors) and BNP Paribas (32).

The Law Society of Ireland said the number of pending admissions to the roll fell in the latter part of 2019, which “may reflect the Brexit extensions, or the confirmation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England and Wales that reciprocal admissions with Ireland will continue, post-Brexit”.

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