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First we take Manhattan

First we take Manhattan
Alan Murphy ALL PICS: Cian Redmond

Alan Murphy, head of EY Law in Ireland



Alan Murphy has moved from managing partner of Eversheds Sutherland Ireland to being head of EY Law Ireland – the global consultancy leviathan’s beachhead in the Irish legal market. Ireland is late to the ‘internationalisation party’, he tells Mary Hallissey.

Monaghan man Alan Murphy has seen the full arc of globalisation in the Irish law market during his career. As a young lawyer working for well-known property solicitor Rory O’Donnell, he saw the relationship develop between international firm Eversheds and O’Donnell Sweeney, which later became Eversheds O’Donnell Sweeney in the early 2000s.

First we take Manhattan

First we take Manhattan

When he started his career, there were no international law firms here. Now, he’s heading up EY Law in Ireland. EY Law is a significant presence globally, but somewhat of an unknown in this country. But that’s all about to change, Murphy says: “Ireland is late to the party in terms of internationalisation.”

Having moved on from Eversheds Sutherland last year, he says: “We would for years, in my former parish, have been the only ones. The next stage is for the law to develop in tandem – in unison – with other disciplines, because it’s interesting for lawyers and accountants and consultants to work together.”

Each discipline brings different educational backgrounds and training, and that has benefits for the client, he feels – law is now transformed in terms of the opportunities out there. “I believe that lawyers have a huge amount to give to industry. I would have the utmost respect for my accountant colleagues who have brought [their skills] to wider business.”

I’m your man

EY Law had a presence in Britain for years before deciding to enter the Irish market, and Murphy was headhunted last year to lead the ‘disruptive initiative’, which now has 12 lawyers and plans to grow to 50 by 2025.

“It was the right time in my career to do it. I do believe this model is part of the future of law – and I’ve always been very interested in the future of law,” he says, describing the challenge of starting as the lone employee of EY Law in Ireland last March as “very energising”.

Murphy says that clients have themselves defined the ‘value proposition’ with their desire to streamline costs by integrating tax and legal advice into one service. Ultimately, he believes that clients will seek value as their needs evolve and change, and that movement is in line with the internationalisation of law.

Of course, multidisciplinary partnerships are not permitted in this jurisdiction. EY Law is a standalone legal firm that is affiliated with EY Law Global and EY Ireland/Global, but not owned or operated by either.

But the fact that EY Law is able to offer legal services across a range of legal disciplines, Murphy says, “enables us to take a truly sectoral approach”. For example, an international company seeking to headquarter in Ireland can go to EY Law for IP, tax, and corporate-structure advice – all in one shop.

He feels that EY Law’s integrated culture and broader team culture will also bring efficiencies: “It strengthens what you’re offering, both the expertise and the service are sharpened.”

“It’s almost impossible for law firms to be able to provide that full, integrated, end-to-end offering,” he suggests, noting that, for many law firms, the model of long-term investment doesn’t suit. “I think that it’s interesting times … it’s a changing and evolving market, and the market was static for a very long time.”

Going home

Blockages in London because of Brexit may work to Ireland’s advantage, Murphy believes. He has already observed a flow of talent and industry into the country: “I would never welcome Brexit, but I think that there are opportunities. We will always move in the direction of the wider business.”

From his perspective as a former Eversheds Sutherland board member who had a European role, he believes that the Irish workforce is talented and productive, motivated, and hard-working – though with weaknesses in language skills.

“Ireland is a good place to live, and it’s a good place to bring up a family, but we’re a good place to do business as well. We were very active in the market in terms of seeking talent, with a deliberate strategy to go for senior people first – to get the best in the market in particular practice areas that we are seeking to operate in,” Murphy explains, adding: “We are already moving on to the next wave of that.”

In September, leaders were appointed for four initial practice areas – commercial real estate, employment law, technology and commercial, and corporate and M&A restructuring.

“We’re already actively looking at energy and sustainability, and financial services, which would probably principally be around regulatory. We were very focused in our strategy to get our senior hires on board so they could build out the teams.”

EY Law already has offices in Cork, Galway and Waterford. “We were keen, from the outset, to have geographical spread in terms of law, because law firms have, historically, been a little bit reluctant to do that. So, we saw a very good opportunity.” The virtual world allows integration from a distance in a way that wasn’t previously possible, he notes.

Everybody knows

Murphy did English and history at Queen’s University, Belfast. He has been thankful for the broad perspective a study of the humanities has given him in his career. “I’m a bit prejudiced because I come from an arts background, but I am in favour of a broad educational base.

“There’s enough time to specialise, and a lot of the law isn’t about the pure technical advice – it’s about approach, it’s about style, it’s about being a trusted advisor.”

He reflects that, while training in a larger firm has its advantages – in terms of resources and access to learning and development – general practice also has numerous upsides.

Murphy trained with Keenan Johnson in his practice in Ballymote, Sligo, where the craft of law was taken very seriously. It was difficult to get a traineeship at the time, and he recounts how he resorted to pretending to be a client to get in the door while traipsing around firms with his CV.

A three-year stint at John A Sinnott in Enniscorthy, Wexford, followed, where he specialised in real estate.

“When I moved to Dublin, I moved to AC Forde and Co, which was a very good banking and real-estate firm. Then, because I had specialised as a real-estate lawyer, I moved to Sweeney O’Donnell because Rory O’Donnell was possibly, as they say, the best conveyancer and property lawyer in the country at that time. He was phenomenal,” he recalls.

When hiring now, Murphy looks for excellent technical knowledge and skill, good instincts, common sense, collegiality – and, of course, integrity. He also seeks an element of entrepreneurial zeal and the ability to embrace something new.

“Emotional intelligence is massively important, and sometimes it’s not rated,” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunity in Ireland, with technological and pharma innovation, and financial-services growth. You would hope that it will continue like that.”

Mary Hallissey is a journalist with the Law Society Gazette.

Read and print a PDF of this article here.