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Law firms must continue to adapt Back  
While the composition of law firms in Ireland has changed little from 15 years ago, the market that they serve has changed significantly. Ronan Moloney says that the law firms who will continue to succeed will be those who will again learn to adapt and evolve to serve the needs of this ever-changing market.
Looking at the table opposite, it would be easy to conclude that, significant though the growth of Ireland’s major law firms has been, little has changed in the Irish market for corporate and financial legal services over the last 15 years

A closer look is warranted however
The market that these firms serve has indeed grown very significantly during this period and this is reflected in the growth in employment in the firms. In fact, overall headcount in each firm has grown at a much faster pace than the above table would suggest. In my own firm, McCann FitzGerald, 15 years ago, we had about 125 people in all. Today, our number is approaching 400. The other firms listed above have seen similar growth and indeed in some cases, have increased their numbers, in terms of non-partner staff, even more significantly than we have. Overall, employment in the five firms has grown three to four fold over the last 15 years. What has accounted for a rate of growth well ahead of the rate of GNP growth over the period?
In 1987, the International Financial Services Centre was just a concept. Even three years later, in 1991, when my own firm chose to relocate there, it was still very much early days for the IFSC. The decision to relocate there, brave as it was at the time, was not one that anyone in McCann FitzGerald came to regret. The IFSC created a significant source of new demand for legal services. Meeting the need represented a real challenge, however. The firms needed to demonstrate the capability of handling complex transactions involving substantial sums and often concerning multiple legal jurisdictions. Frequently the parties would be working to take advantage of some window of opportunity that had opened or been identified and the legal advisers involved needed to be able to contribute to the creative process involved. Add to this the inevitably tight timeframes and the need to have sufficient experience to understand what would be acceptable internationally in terms of how banks, rating agencies and others might view things and you had a real situation of opportunity combined with challenge!
The growth of the IFSC is, of course, only one of the factors that affected the growth of the legal services market. Corporate activity - mergers, acquisitions, MBOs, LBOs, privatisations, demutualisations, IPOs - reflecting consolidation within business segments, domestically and internationally, as well as reflecting the ordinary dynamics of a lively market economy, has been running at much greater levels than hitherto, even if there was a relatively quieter period in 2001.
High levels of inward investment, particularly from the US and especially in the technology and healthcare sectors, have been another source of significant demand.
More recently, the desire to share with the private sector the design, operation and finance of infrastructural development - through public private partnership - has created further new demand for legal services in advising the various interests concerned.
There have also been some mature markets like taxation advice that the law firms have started to move into in recent years. The contentious area has not been quiet either. The regulatory landscape becomes ever more detailed and complex and inevitably gives rise to situations where the interests of particular parties demand that their conduct be defended or that the conduct of others or of regulators be challenged.
The firms involved have responded to these changes by investing heavily in training and development, recruitment, information technology, financial management and marketing. Greater specialisation among practitioners and the addition of laterally recruited lawyers who have gained experience in international law firms have also contributed to their capacity to meet the new needs of clients highlighted above.
As between the firms, competition is more intense than ever before. Indeed, the firms have often been competing not just with one another but also with law firms outside Ireland, with other professional services providers and with medium sized law firms. In so far as the law firms are really selling talent, they have also been competing in regard to the attraction and retention of people with companies that are keen to strengthen their inhouse legal capabilities.
Whatever happens over the next fifteen years it seems that law firms who will continue to succeed will be those that best adapt to changing circumstances and that this will involve again the need to continually develop new areas of expertise and capability.

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