04 Nov 2017 | 02.52 pm
Interview: Bernard McEvoy, McEvoy Corporate Law
M&A and property specialist
04 Nov 2017 | 02.52 pm
Bernard McEvoy over-expanded his corporate law practice in the good times and paid the price. Now he believes that small is beautiful
For most corporate solicitors in Dublin, life is a gilded glide from associate to partner to the oversized mansion in Monkstown or Dalkey. Bernard McEvoy (pictured) can mix it with the best of the denizens in the dockside office blocks, but he jumped out of big law to plough his own furrow, building up McEvoy Partners as a boutique corporate law firm.
In the boomtime of the Noughties, the McEvoy trajectory took the firm all the way to Connaught House, a newly built Johnny Ronan palazzo on Burlington Road. The law firm made the move across the canal into Dublin 4 just as the Irish economy was plunging into deep recession. In the crunch that followed, Bernard McEvoy quit the firm he had founded and in 2011 headed to London to work with US law firm Brown Rudnick.
McEvoy recalls: “It’s never easy to have to stand down from a practice you founded, but I made mistakes and committed the firm to expenditure based on an understanding with other people I had at the time that didn’t materialise. So I felt I had to fall on my sword.
“We had a very good practice but unfortunately during the boom years I believed in the Celtic Tiger and the soft landing. We had gone on an expansion programme, we were up to 16 or 17 lawyers and we moved into plush new offices. I paid the price and decided that the firm couldn’t support me and everyone else.”
During his London years, McEvoy continued to work with some longstanding clients, such as John Teeling, the whiskey and natural resources entrepreneur. “With John, I have been from diamonds in South Africa to farming in the Ukraine,” he says. “I did the Cooley Distillery sale while I was over there when they sold it to Jim Beam, and assisted Irish clients who were looking at acquisitions in South America. However, on a personal level I didn’t want to stay in London any longer than I had to.”
For the Americans, the tie-up was a way of testing the water for entering the Irish market. After opening a Dublin office, Brown Rudnick became embroiled in Nama’s Project Eagle controversy in Northern Ireland. It also became clear that London fee structures weren’t going to wash in Dublin, so the US firm pulled back.
“I thought long and hard about it and decided that it was time at age 57 to start again because I was going to enjoy the independence and doing it my own way as opposed to the Brown Rudnick way,” says McEvoy.
And so McEvoy Corporate Law was born in January 2016, firstly on Fitzwilliam Square and now in a second floor office on Fitzwilliam Place. “Our niche market is well run businesses that have good projects and good turnover and profit,” McEvoy explains.
“It’s largely anywhere that business and law collide, and what I have is an enormous amount of experience and contacts. I also have a younger but well-qualified and well-disciplined team behind me. So when we involve ourselves in a transaction, it is led by me and there doesn’t have to six or seven other lawyers billing out hourly rates on different areas of the transaction.
“I originally started with property, and then banking and insolvency. When a document is presented and there is a set of warranties, I don’t need five other lawyers to look at it. On a recent Examinership transaction, we had two lawyers and the other side had nine.”
Effectively at the startup stage when former colleagues are about to head for a yachting retirement, McEvoy is having to learn new tricks. “Now I’m back in Dublin I’ve had to focus on reconnecting, but in a modern way. I was never that conscious of LinkedIn but my kids have pushed me in that direction and it’s great.
“One night recently I connected with about 80 people. Now when we do something interesting we can push it out on LinkedIn to 700 people or so, and it’s an increasing circle you keep adding to. The other aspect to social media is that with we have to reach out to a younger client base than my generation.”
Bernard McEvoy is a legal M&A expert, and transactions aren’t as frequent as a decade ago. “Bank finance is still an issue but we do work for private individuals who will lend at mezzanine rates on a short term basis. They might finance a property asset that need to get planning to develop it or undergo rent reviews to make it more presentable to the banks for secured lending. For this type of short term project lending, the interest rates are higher, 10% to 15%, and secured with a first charge on the assets. There is a market for that until the banks are fully functioning again.”
McEvoy adds that a property background and understanding is fundamental to any lawyer involved in transactions in Ireland. “When you are buying or selling a company, there is usually a property involved. If you’re operating in the corporate business world as a lawyer in Dublin, you have to be competent about property, and keep yourself up to date with the most modern practices.”
Having come unstuck in one property bubble, what’s McEvoy’s view of the new one? “I do see caution with some people but I worry about the number of 171 Range Rovers I see on the roads. I don’t know if they’re bought with cash or credit, and I wonder have we fully learnt our lesson. So that makes me a little bit more cautious and wiser as well. These days you have to work hard and shake the trees.”