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Robots can't replace counsel – Pinsent Masons partner
Marilyn Cooney of Pinsent Mason who spoke at the legal Cheek seminar Pic: Courtesy of Legal Cheek

04 Oct 2018 / corporate law Print

Robots can't replace counsel – Pinsent Masons' partner

The world-class quality of legal services already available here may deter big international firms from setting up in Dublin, a seminar at Blackhall Place on the city’s future as a global legal hub has heard.

“There isn’t a huge flood of law firms coming into Dublin – there is a trickle, focused on particular practice areas,” observed funds lawyer Declan O’Sullivan of Dechert, at the Legal Cheek event on 3 October 2018.

He also said that Irish lawyers find London jobs with relative ease, given the high regard for the quality of their training.

Marilyn Cooney (pictured above) is a partner with Pinsent Masons’, the 25th biggest law firm globally with 24 international offices. She says that the decision of her firm to set up in Dublin was made before Brexit, as part of a strategic growth plan.

US attorney Chris Jorgenson of The BARBRI Group said that, post-Brexit, there will be many US practitioners looking to “posture themselves in Europe” to get into the Irish legal community because Ireland will be the flag-bearer as a common law English-speaking jurisdiction in the EU 27.

Golden age of opportunity

This is a golden age of opportunity for legal professionals, with far too many jobs and far too few people, Matheson partner, Tara Doyle, pointed out.

Doyle said that Matheson’s recent decision to become the first Dublin law firm to set up in Cork, was driven by a recognition of the city as a centre of industry and commerce, hosting financial services, a huge amount of FDI, and all of the banks.

"We absolutely need to have a presence there,” she said. “You have to go to Cork if you want to get Cork people,” she explained, in answer to a question about decentralisation.

“For law firms, it is harder to be regionalised in a country like Ireland, because we need people to be together to get the benefits for all the different practice areas.”

On the question of the Irish legal market becoming over-saturated with English graduates, Doyle revealed that Matheson receives fewer than a half-dozen traineeship applications from non-Irish universities out of a total of 800.

“There are quite a lot of hurdles in the Irish qualification system, in terms of sitting really tough FE1s, getting a traineeship, and then qualifying,” she explained.

And, heading in the opposite direction, Dechert’s Declan O’Sullivan said that offering Irish graduates a London traineeship “didn’t work very well” because those who went there didn’t come back.

High retention rates

Chris Jorgenson said that preparing people to practise law was onerous because of the profession’s influence on every area of society.

“The quality of legal education [in Ireland] and its strict assessment will see graduates in good stead across the global legal profession,” he said.

Retention rates are high for Irish trainees, and there is an expectation of staying on with the firm, O’Sullivan pointed out.

On the threat to legal jobs from automation and artificial intelligence, Pinsent Masons’ Marilyn Cooney said that robots could “never do the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff”.

“What clients value, and what they really pay us for, is our ability to solve problems and think laterally.

“What is helpful in terms of automating processes is that it keeps costs down, and it’s a smarter way to deliver services to your clients.

“Our clients are getting far more savvy, commercial, and sophisticated now, and I think firms that aren’t able to adapt to change quickly will have difficulty,” she said.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland