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COVID buffets PC numbers in 2021

04 Feb 2022 / Law Society Print

COVID buffets PC numbers in 2021

For the second year running, Matheson retains pole position as Ireland’s largest law firm – but only six of the top 20 firms saw an increase in PC numbers in 2021. Mark McDermott reports.

For the second year in a row, Matheson retains the title of Ireland’s largest law firm – just pipping its closest rivals Arthur Cox LLP and A&L Goodbody.

The Law Society Gazette’s table (below) reveals the number of practising certificates (PCs) held by the 20 largest firms in Ireland as of 31 December 2021 – the last date of the previous practice year. Matheson has 308 PC holders compared with Arthur Cox LLP (304) and A&L Goodbody (299).

Despite maintaining pole position, Matheson suffered the second-largest decline in the number of PC holders during the growth-stunting year of 2021 – losing 19 solicitors in total during the year, which was matched by a similar drop at William Fry LLP. (Compare that with 2020, when Matheson took the premier position with a surprising increase of 42 PCs compared with its performance in 2019 and 2018, when its figures remained unchanged during both years.)

The greatest contraction in 2021, however, was experienced by A&L Goodbody, which lost 21 PC holders during the year. This decline allowed Arthur Cox LLP to manoeuvre into second place on the grid.

What is most surprising about the 2021 results is the decline in solicitor numbers in the top three firms compared with 2020. In fact, among the top 20 firms, only six showed an increase in PC numbers (+50) during the year under review. This is a direct reversal of the situation in 2020, when only six firms experienced a fall in PC numbers.

The figures reveal a sharp decline of 102 PC holders among 11 of the top 20 firms in just one year – an indication, if any were needed, of the impact of the pandemic on the profession.

Bucking the trend among the top ten law firms was Mason Hayes & Curran, which grew its solicitor numbers by 19, thus leapfrogging McCann FitzGerald LLP by one place to move fourth on the table – its highest ranking during the past seven years. ­

ByrneWallace LLP also boosted its performance and welcomed 13 new solicitors to its ranks, followed by Maples and Calder (Ireland) LLP, which grew by four. Despite its growth, however, ByrneWallace was boxed in at seventh position. The increase of four PC holders at Maples and Calder (Ireland) LLP saw it switching places with Eversheds Sutherland, moving from ninth to eighth position.

William Fry LLP and Ronan Daly Jermyn maintained their sixth and tenth positions, respectively. Standing out on the table is Philip Lee, which welcomed nine new PC holders in 2021, slipstreaming two places higher to 13.

The other standouts in the top 20 are Fieldfisher LLP, which makes its first appearance on the table, in 15th position with 63 solicitors. (The firm merged with Irish firm McDowell Purcell in May 2019, which featured in 19th place on the table in 2018.)

Another newcomer this year is DLA Piper Ireland LLP, which appears on the table for the first time, in 20th position, with a total of 46 PC holders. It also opened its Irish office in May 2019.

So a year of mixed results then, during which most firms managed to maintain their positions during a ‘stop-start’ 2021. Hopefully 2022 will bring some welcome surprises – and turbo-charged results!

Read and print a PDF of this article here.

Mark McDermott
Mark McDermott is the Editor of the Law Society Gazette