15 May 2020 | 07.59 am
Interview: Alan Murphy, Managing Partner, Eversheds Sutherland
'Covid-19 has highlighted the value of our technology capabilities'
15 May 2020 | 07.59 am
Managing Partner Alan Murphy (pictured) of Eversheds Sutherland reveals his firm’s hopes for the next year, as well as how the last 12 months have been
What were your firm’s development highlights over the past year?
We have always known that our biggest asset is our people and this is especially true in these extraordinary times. The environment we are all operating within is changing at pace but we have great teams who are able to meet the demands of our clients.
Over the past year, we have reinforced our investment in the services and practice areas our clients need the most. This includes growing some of our practice areas in our Dublin office, including litigation, employment, commercial, corporate, taxation, energy, procurement, financial services, as well as our real estate and construction teams.
Our Belfast team has rapidly expanded. In February, we moved into new offices in the city centre, increasing our footprint in Northern Ireland and demonstrating our commitment to the region. Now with 17 employees and ambitions to grow to 25 by the end of the year, the bigger space gives us greater flexibility for further growth and allows us to host internal client events.
Today, both offices work closely together offering expert legal services to clients, including a specialist ‘Brexit-hub’ across the island of Ireland and the UK.
Additionally, we invested heavily in our IT structure and as a result, the firm has adapted very quickly to remote working without any issues. As Covid-19 continues to unfold, our teams remain connected and positive and we are also prioritising their wellbeing. For example, we are running a daily wellbeing challenge and we have created an online hub for employees to share suggestions and useful information with one another, such as tips for cooking, gardening, home schooling, etc.
What areas of your firm have you targeted for increased growth or development?
We have experienced accelerated growth in our corporate and commercial divisions, including data protection, intellectual property, cyber security, litigation, real estate and financial services. We have a specialist data centre group and we offer bespoke services for sectors that incorporate data centres, which can be quite complex.
One of the main areas of business for us is tax and we have a very strong tax team, which enables us to provide a strong Irish-US offering. Other areas such as employment law have also experienced significant growth, and we are industry leaders in technology innovation and driving our administrative effectiveness.
Brexit led to the establishment of our Brexit advisory group. This draws on the expertise of our multidisciplinary teams in Dublin and Belfast to help our clients anticipate what lies ahead and maximise the opportunities for their businesses. In 2019, we advised many of the companies that have declared Dublin as their post-Brexit base.
What is your assessment of business sentiment in the legal sector?
Today, the law touches every aspect of life, business and society and that’s a lot of opportunities for members of the profession. However, Covid-19 is slowing things down for our sector and for many other sectors.
This unforeseen situation is very difficult for us all but we all know that it will abate; in time, trading and commercial deals will resume. Part of the recovery will see Ireland reignite its position as one of the top destinations of choice for US investment and for multinationals to do business in Europe and further afield.
We pride ourselves on offering superior professional advice to our clients, making it easier for them to do business here. For example, last October we supported one such internationally-focused client with its expansion and establishment of a European headquarters in Dublin, as well as the creation of 30 new jobs here. We provided legal and tax support to Patreon – its platform allows independent artists to reach their fans through a subscription model.
When Brexit returns as a political and trade priority, it’s likely that more UK companies will declare Ireland as their post-Brexit base. These businesses will require advice around operating models, corporate structures, cross-border trading relationships, data protection, and IP — something our Brexit advisory group ‘two island offering’ can assist with. There will also be a need for trade lawyers to advise clients on numerous new trade laws to be introduced from this year.
Last year, Brexit saw record numbers gaining membership of Ireland’s legal roll as a way of keeping ‘rights of audience’ before EU courts. This has enhanced the expertise of our local teams and our overall offering. It means our practice groups can continue the multi-jurisdictional advisory work they are doing with access to Europe.
Do you view new law firms arriving into Ireland as a significant competitive threat?
We have a strong reputation for our mature market knowledge and consistent delivery of services to all our clients. We are fortunate to be in the unique position of being, by some distance, the largest global law firm on the island of Ireland, with by far the greatest strength and depth of expertise, and the longest local heritage.
So we welcome new market players from abroad, as they further socialise within the Irish market what benefit global law firms like ourselves can bring to clients. As ultimately, it is all about the benefit we can bring to clients.
In my time at the firm, I have personally experienced the challenges a recession brought and the opportunities that came from a return to economic growth. Our success came from focusing on our clients’ needs and then growing out of that.
We are facing similar challenges now because of Covid-19 and an increase in competition in the market from newcomers, mostly owing to the fact that we will soon become the sole English-speaking country in the EU jurisdiction.
We will focus on what we can control — ensuring we provide our clients with exceptional support and unparalleled advisory services.
Does competition and wage pressures in the sector allow much flexibility with fee structures?
Clients are always willing to pay for services where they see benefit brought and value added, so it is fundamentally about doing an excellent job for our client and the fees will follow.
During these particular exceptional times, one of our core principles, that of partnering with our clients, comes to the fore — to partner with our clients to help them through this crisis and to best position them for when it abates. Charge-out rates and fees are all part of this approach.
Covid-19 has highlighted the value of our technology capabilities. In addition to a new project management system, we are also working on some artificial intelligence (AI) projects. For example, we have an AI product that can read thousands of documents to find a particular subject and can, therefore, reduce months of manual reading to a couple of hours, which will have a positive effect on charge-out rates to our clients.
What are the key strengths of your firm and its legal teams?
We train, nurture and mentor our lawyers, take a commercially-driven, solution-focused, and can-do approach. Our lawyers are very conscious that our roles are:
- To facilitate and enable transactions;
- To give clear, succinct and bespoke advice;
- To be at all times focused, not only on a particular client’s immediate needs, but also to anticipate what a client might need.
We can access colleagues around the world and provide a seamless service if the client has an issue in a particular jurisdiction. For example, throughout Covid-19, our teams have been in regular contact with their global colleagues and they are feeding into global reports.
As a global firm, we are fully committed to the promotion of inclusiveness. We are finalising our far-reaching ‘Gender Identity and Inclusion in the Workplace’ policy. Last year, we were recognised for our efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in business and included on the 2019 OUTstanding LGBT+ Ally Role Model List.