Irish law firms among Europe's elite despite brutal recession
By Finfacts Team
Apr 5, 2011 - 1:12 AM

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Irish law firms remain among Europe's elite despite a brutal recession with Arthur Cox & Co in 18th rank for 2010 revenue in Europe.

The online service The Lawyer says if there is a single conclusion to be drawn from this year’s The Lawyer European 100 survey, which does not include UK firms, it is that the Continent remains a vastly diverse legal market. While firms in some jurisdictions
have had outstanding years, other countries have struggled with stagnant economies.

However, the majority of the top 100 firms managed to post revenue rises in 2010. This is a turnaround from 2009, when a number reported quite significant drops. Few have managed to recover entirely from the downturn, but most are on the way back up.

Top rank goes to Garrigues, a Spanish firm with total revenues of €352.8m in 2010; Revenue per partner: €1.3m and Revenue per lawyer: €177k.

Ireland's Arthur Cox & Co. had turnover of €106m; Revenue per partner: €1.02m and Revenue per lawyer: €400k.

Ireland's population is almost a tenth of Spain's.

The survey says by a pinch, Arthur Cox remained Ireland’s biggest law firm in 2010, with an overall headcount of 570 employees and 104 partners. The firm has the highest leverage in Ireland, with 5.5 associates to each partner. The firm topped the deal tables both by value and volume for last year, with it scooping the instruction from the Irish government on the country’s bailout from the International Monetary Fund at the end of the year, although normal activity in Ireland is yet to resume, according to the survey - - that is not correct as the law firms have shown that bubble business was very good while working on the wreckage, is as good. 

McCann FitzGerald at 20th rank, remained one of Ireland’s largest law firms for 2010, despite seeing decreases in both its partner and associate numbers during 2010. The firm’s overall lawyer headcount dropped by eight, while the firm also lost two partners. The survey says despite the country’s tricky economic climate, workflow was strong and McCanns topped the Irish M&A league tables for the year as a whole.

Matheson Ormsby Prentice is at 23th; AL Goodbody at 25th; William Fry, which had an estimated turnover of €58m is at 47th and Mason Hayes and Curran was at 70th on the list, with a turnover of €36m.

The survey says that in nearly 30 firms, women represent less than 10% of the partnership.  Swiss firms rate badly when it comes to their female  partnerships.

Irish firms collectively show well in this area. Women make up 28% or more of the partnership at five of the six Irish firms featured in the table and the sixth, A&L Goodbody, has a female partnership of 21%.

The State is the biggest customer and support of the exorbitant legal fees in Ireland  --  effectively a bankrupt economy.

On Feb 01 last, the day the 30th Dáil was dissolved, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee published a report which shows that public bodies are the largest procurers of legal services in the State with an estimated spend of anything up to €500m.

SEE: Finfacts article: Commercial litigation in Ireland on €200,000 claim double cost in Europe; Average Irish court case takes 515 days

The Competition Authority (CA) has said that the legal profession in Ireland is organised into a highly rigid business model: access to barristers for legal advice is limited to a few approved clients, barristers cannot form partnerships or chambers or represent their employers in court; there is no profession of “conveyancers” in Ireland, as in other common-law countries, and this limits competition in conveyancing services; the title of Senior Counsel is inclined to distort rather than facilitate competition; junior counsel generally charge a fee equal to two-thirds of the senior counsel’s fee, regardless of the work done by each barrister, despite the fact that this practice was identified as anti-competitive in an independent report on the legal profession decades ago; there is need to establish objective criteria for awarding the title of Senior Counsel.

The level of solicitors’ fees in the High Court increased by 4.2% above general inflation annually over the period 1984 to 2003 while the level of senior counsel fees in the High Court increased by 3.3%
above general inflation annually over the same period.

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