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DLA Piper
David Carthy PIC: Jason Clarke

07 Feb 2020 / Ireland Print

Shake it up

DLA Piper’s managing partner David Carthy says that the Irish legal scene is set for major change with the arrival of some of the world’s largest law firms.

Global legal colossus DLA Piper has arrived in Dublin, with well laid plans to provide greater choice for businesses in Ireland.

Operating across all time zones, staff growth at the Dublin office has mushroomed since the firm’s arrival just over a year ago.

In Christmas 2018, there were just two staff. Now there are 51 – of whom 18 are lawyers at partner or legal director rank, with 20 associates and two trainees.

Managing partner David Carthy, a 48-year-old Dublin native, is clearly quietly satisfied with how things are going. He involves himself deeply in the recruitment process, working out what each applicant wishes to achieve before they are hired.

Less hierarchical

DLA Piper’s culture is “clearly less hierarchical”, he says, adding that he gets directly involved when it comes to nurturing those who work in the firm.

“Fewer young lawyers are now willing to put in the slog of the traditional ‘partner track’,” he notes. He ponders whether some younger practitioners will continue to work as lawyers at all, given some of the historical work practices still evident in the profession.

He is alive to the fact that in-house roles now appear far more attractive to younger solicitors – and working outside the law can also be far more attractive for some, he surmises. These trends shape the different work practices and global careers that DLA Piper offers.

Agile environment

“For the sake of the health of the Irish economy and the profession, things now need to move along,” he says. “These are just realities – talent will always go where it most wants to go. People want to be proud of where they work, and that is the challenge.

“Clearly, people need to work hard in a legal career, but we are interested in people for the long run, and in developing their skills. We want to build a working culture that people are happy in, and, to do that, our practices need to be sustainable. Our lawyers need to be working in a way that is not stretching them to breaking point.

“We work in a very agile environment, so when people need to work at home, for family or other reasons, this is facilitated. That agility is role-modelled right throughout the organisation.

“We intend to be the leading global law firm in Dublin,” he says firmly.

Irish talent

The firm already carries deep knowledge of the existing legal market in the capital. David himself worked for William Fry for 19 years.

“We know the domestic law firms very well. I suspect they are finding out about us now!” he smiles.

“Looking at the Irish economy now, the nice thing is that people who do want a global career can have it in Ireland.

“Frankly, from a legal perspective, that was never the case before,” he says.

Carthy strongly believes in Irish talent, and that Irish people can carry their weight wherever they go and thrive internationally. And he believes that offering a global legal career in Dublin is a key part of the attraction offered by the firm.

He is hiring ten interns this summer, with a view to offering graduate trainee position – and overseas secondments will form part of the package on offer.

Binary choice

Carthy wants to remove the binary choice that existed in the past between a global legal career and the benefits of living in one’s home country.

On the topic of the firm’s prior hiring patterns, Carthy refers to a strong desire to hire with diversity in mind, including graduates with a non-law or international background. With 99 DLA Piper offices globally, there are significant opportunities for those who wish to travel.

“I’m gratified, and somewhat humbled, by the talent we’ve managed to assemble,” he says, citing the “energy, ambition and entrepreneurial flair” of the existing Dublin team.

When hiring, Carthy looks for a global mindset, curiosity about alternative ways of doing things, a strong collaborative ethos, openness to change and entrepreneurial ability.

The recent arrival of Dentons in Dublin validates the DLA Piper strategy, Carthy believes. The only surprise for the managing partner is how long the global wave has taken to reach Dublin.

Huge change

He senses a huge change in the seniority of decision-making now taking place in Dublin. “When multinationals first moved in, they just made things in Ireland. There has been a rapid growth of global decision-making capacity in Ireland in the last five to ten years particularly, including head-of-legal and tax functions.

“This aligns with the sheer global nature of Irish businesses, such as Kerry, Smurfit and Glanbia. Some of those Irish businesses are in every country in the world, and are still headquartered in Ireland.”

DLA Piper wants to be the trusted business advisor for clients and is offering an integrated global platform. It has conducted more M&A transactions than any other law firm in the past ten years.

“Can you imagine the data and insights that can be brought from those transactions?” Carthy asks. “We’re getting better at analysing that data, and providing those insights. Many of our clients are not just looking for an interpretation of the law as it is now, but for a perspective on what it is likely to be in the future.”

Government lobbying ahead of legislative change in Brussels, London or Washington DC forms part of the DLA Piper offering: “Business works through and around politics at all times,” Carthy comments. “Business needs to understand the regulatory and business horizon. It needs to inform and influence it.”

Global presence

With offices in over 40 countries and a turnover of €3 billion, Ireland’s new global presence is important to the Dublin newcomer.

“Our business model is not dependent on the Irish economy, which, as a small, open economy, is always exposed to peaks and troughs.”

And the sands are shifting in terms of where the power lies, in terms of spending on legal services. Carthy notes that in-house lawyers are now leading the way, and holding the purse-strings in the profession.

“In-house lawyers, for instance in tech companies, are a huge influence in driving the legal industry forward. A client who buys the services calls the shots – not the profession itself.”

The demands on in-house lawyers in global companies are quite considerable, he maintains. Their role, challenges and skill-sets increasingly diverge from traditional private practice, and many of them are based in Dublin. He comments that DLA Piper is ready to meet their needs.

While Irish business is highly globalised, Carthy questions why so few foreign-born executives are part of the leadership teams at Irish law firms: “It’s striking in the Irish legal industry how few people there are at the top who come from different countries – whereas Irish people are at the top of industries in New York, London – all over the world.”

Rebalancing

“If you look at Amsterdam, Boston, Paris, Berlin – all of them used to look the same as Dublin, led by largely male partners who were educated in similar schools and universities.

“Some of those firms still thrive independently, but they are in the minority now,” he observes. “That rebalancing is only beginning to happen now in Dublin.”

While there has been an international dimension in the funds and offshore aspects of the legal industry here, he adds, this is only a very small slice of the pie.

“To my mind, if you are a law firm, and you don’t, at a minimum, offer UK and US legal advice, then you are not offering something that meets the needs of Irish businesses.

“That lack of choice for Irish-based clients, and lack of choice for Irish talent, has been evident, in plain sight, for my entire career. We are happy to do something about that
now.”  

Mary Hallissey
Mary Hallissey is a journalist at Gazette.ie