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2020 pc numbers
Managing partner of Matheson, Michael Jackson

05 Feb 2021 / Law Society Print

Matheson surges from third to top

Practising certificate figures for the year ending 31 December 2020 have seen a change at the top of the ‘PC league table’, with Matheson leapfrogging its nearest rivals, writes Ken Murphy

Matheson is now the largest law firm in Ireland, having been third in each of the last six years. In each of these years, the Law Society has published the number of practising certificates (PCs) of the largest firms on the last date (31 December) of the previous practice year.

The bragging rights as Ireland’s largest law firm had been owned by either A&L Goodbody or Arthur Cox LLP throughout that period. But Matheson has now leapfrogged both of these large-firm competitors to top this year’s table, with 327 practising solicitors.

Matheson has achieved this with a whopping year-on-year increase of 42 PCs over its 2019 and 2018 total (which was unchanged in both years).

This expansion of fractionally under 15% in PC numbers places it seven solicitors ahead of A&L Goodbody (which this year has 320), and Arthur Cox LLP (with 312). These are the only three firms with more than 300 practitioners.

Others expanding too

Below the 300 number are two firms, McCann FitzGerald and Mason Hayes & Curran LLP, which have also grown substantially in PC numbers – by 18 and 20 respectively – in the past year.

Mason Hayes & Curran has now grown its number of practitioners impressively over two successive years, with an 8.3% increase by the end of 2020, added to the 5.2% growth of the previous year.

The only other firm with more than 200 practitioners, William Fry, remains steady with 207 PCs this year – the same as last year.

Elsewhere in the table, by a curious coincidence, no fewer than five firms all tied on 63 PCs, namely Eugene F Collins, Philip Lee, Pinsent Mason LLP, LK Shields LLP, and Walkers. DAC Beachcroft Dublin joined the table for the first time.

Given the relative stability in this table every year, it is no surprise that the rank order of most firms this year is the same, or almost the same, as in previous years.

‘Brexit’ PCs

The firm that appeared seventh on the table last year, Allen & Overy LLP, does not feature at all this year. In addition, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, down to 88 PCs in this year’s table, is unlikely to feature at all next year. Neither of these City of London-headquartered firms – both members of the elite ‘magic circle’ – has ever had an office in this jurisdiction nor, to the best of the Law Society’s knowledge, do they plan to establish one.

The phenomenon of large international law firms, with no establishment in this jurisdiction, taking out Irish practising certificates for their solicitors who have recently come on the Roll here was a by-product of Brexit and has now come to an end.

As a result of a decision made by the Society in the latter part of 2020, based on a deep-dive review of policy and the relevant law undertaken by the Society’s Regulation of Practice Committee, the Society now no longer issues practising certificates to firms of solicitors who do not have an office, or plan to have an office, in this jurisdiction. 

Total PCs in 2020

The total number of practising certificates issued by the Law Society on 31 December 2020 was 11,854. This is a reduction of 105 on the record 11,959 practising certificates on 31 December 2019, and is largely accounted for by the decline in ‘Brexit’ PCs taken out in 2020 by comparison with the previous year.

Read and print a PDF of this article here.

Ken Murphy
Ken Murphy is Director General of the Law Society