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Moore’s Almanac
Geoff Moore PIC: Cian Redmond

04 Oct 2019 / People Print

Moore’s Almanac

The man who will lead Ireland’s top law firm for the next four years believes that part of his job is to remain “slightly paranoid” on behalf of the business.

Corkman Geoff Moore will be installed in November as managing partner at Arthur Cox, at a time of massive flux and challenge for the Irish legal market.

He is watchful on behalf of the Arthur Cox brand and business, as it gears up for its centenary year in 2020:

“Any law firm is only as good as its next set of instructions,” he points out, as he takes the helm at the firm that has the highest number of practising solicitors in the country.

“I am never complacent about any of our competitors. I take nothing for granted,” he says.

Moore also increasingly sees the big consulting firms, such as Deloitte and KPMG, expanding their legal offerings. He is determined that his firm will stay nimble.

Changing environments

“If we continue to do things the way we’ve done them historically, that’s not necessarily going to wash any more. Our clients’ demands and environments are changing.”

The business has invested heavily in digital transformation. Technology can be of huge assistance in data interrogation or regulatory investigation projects.

“There are tools that can do this stuff far quicker and far cheaper and, frankly, it means we can give more interesting work to our junior lawyers,” says Geoff.

Best decision ever made

Soon to be leading a team of around 300 lawyers at the swish Arthur Cox HQ in Earlsfort Terrace, Cork-born Moore reflects that moving to Dublin was the best decision he ever made. Despite being equipped with an excellent UCC law degree, opportunities were thin on the ground in Ireland’s second city during the mid-1990s.

Moore proceeded to do a two-year research-based MLitt at Trinity College on the law of fundraising – a hot topic in an area largely unregulated at the time.

He was subsequently hired as a research assistant at the Law Reform Commission, clerking for retired Supreme Court judge, the late Mr Justice Anthony Hederman.

New York, New York

He then joined Arthur Cox as an apprentice in October 1998 but, having secured a green card, took off for New York following qualification and a stint in a “very intense” environment at a New York law firm, where he was also admitted to the bar.

“I learned so much. The work practices and standards of a leading international law firm were very exciting to me back then,” he says.

He brought this international dimension back to Arthur Cox in 2003. He was made partner within four years, and has held a host of management roles in recent years. Many others at the firm have similar international legal experience.

Global network

Arthur Cox has a blue-chip list of domestic clients, but has been enjoying increasing growth in international work, often acting for Irish corporates expanding abroad or foreign ones coming here. In this, it has the benefit of close ties to leading firms in other jurisdictions.

“To the extent that our domestic clients are doing significant work abroad, we seek to work with them there … with our network of friendly law firms around the globe.”

Where significant Irish corporates seek to acquire assets abroad, Arthur Cox will run the deal, “rather than thrusting the client straight into a culture with which they may not be familiar. That’s a differentiator, frankly,” he says.

Moore is obsessive about attracting, developing and retaining the best talent. The firm takes in about 45 trainees each year.

Good judgement

“At our core, we’re a people business,” he says, observing that good judgement can never be outsourced to robots or technology.

“Fundamentally, clients look for judgement and expertise for their most critical mandates and their most significant deals,” he says. “We can’t provide the service we need to provide unless we have the talent.”

He is keen to continue to cast the recruitment net beyond the traditional sources, pointing out that Arthur Cox sponsors a range of initiatives at most universities.

“We don’t pin ourselves too much to one particular university,” he says, pointing to the growing need for broader life experience and a diverse workforce, and the avoidance of homogeneity and groupthink.

“In any walk of life, you don’t want people who are all thinking the same way.”

I’ve got the music in me

He freely admits that, in the past, Arthur Cox was less open to recruiting non-law graduates. The vast majority of hires used to be law grads, but now the firm is interested in recruiting those with diverse degrees, such as music, history, computer science and tech.

“We’ve got to keep an open mind about getting the best talent,” he says. He wants to nurture, train, and hold onto incoming trainees.

The key source of talent is the firm’s graduate recruitment programme, and a significant amount of resources and partner time is spent on carefully reviewing 800-900 applications each year.

A demanding career

“We are looking for a bit of drive, someone who has travelled, worked at home or abroad, where you can see the ambition coming off the page. This is a demanding career. We don’t sugar-coat it, but it’s definitely not ‘one-size-fits-all’.”

The legal market has evolved, with many summer interns getting traineeships on the back of four weeks in the office.

“Sometimes, hiring decisions are being made very early in a person’s college career,” he observes, adding that maturity and intelligence tend to increase exponentially as time goes on.

Practical application

On legal education, Moore comments that law graduates are often struck by how vastly different their daily work is from the modules they learned at college.

“It is practical application and dealing with people and with problems – rather than necessarily poring over black-letter law all day long.”

He acknowledges that the practice of law in an 800-person firm is vastly different from the work of a small, sole practitioner, so Blackhall Place and other law schools have to cover all bases.

People skills and emotional intelligence are absolutely essential in lawyers, he believes, and while a decent percentage of this may be an innate skill, people can always get better.

“You can talk about tech and artificial intelligence all day long, but you’ve got to relate to your clients. If you don’t, things become a challenge.”

Emotional intelligence

“And it’s not just on the client side either. Emotional intelligence is really critical in terms of managing your team.

“You can have all the initiatives in the world, in terms of agile working, sabbaticals and diversity programmes, but, ultimately, if you can’t relate to your team and your team can’t relate to you, that’s a challenge for holding onto people.

“If I don’t bring through people for the next generation to continue in this place, then I have failed in my role, frankly. That’s the reality of life. I would strongly say that I am a fiduciary of this firm, and I have to do all I can to put it in a better place for the next generation.”

Staying in touch

The firm makes strenuous efforts to stay in touch with all its alumni, though over 90% of trainees will typically stay at the firm after qualification.

Geoff hates the thought of a staff member walking out the door with no further contact, seeing it as utterly wasteful of all the time and energy devoted to their training.

If an employee wants to leave and do something else, the firm will use its network to try to place them in a suitable role.

“I’d far prefer, if someone is leaving, that they come and talk to us, rather than relying on recruiters,” he says. “We may know of positions that recruiters won’t know about.

“Our business model won’t work if everyone is here for life,” he says, and some lawyers will always want to take their excellent training elsewhere. A close eye is kept on the turnover rate.”

Transparency

Moore plans to work to improve communication at the firm: “People love information, in every walk of life,” he observes. “The more information you can give about plans and strategy, the more people are empowered, invested and loyal.

“We are transparent, but we can be more transparent, and I hope that we will become so.”

The firm pushes against a culture of ‘presentee-ism’, and wants its staff to ‘work smart’ – putting in the hours when it’s needed, but logging off when it’s not.

Flexible working

‘Mobile kits’ are supplied to all staff to allow for flexible working, and sabbaticals are also on offer, again with the goal of retaining staff in a competitive market.

He observes that young solicitors often have different life-goals to the traditional ‘one-track-minded’ partner.

Cox’s Earlsfort Terrace office was specifically designed to limit ego battles, with sit-stand desks, windows and views meted out with strict equality. Moore describes the over-riding Arthur Cox value as ‘humility’.

The firm has loosened its dress code in recent years, with a successful summer 2016 experiment with ‘business casual’ now extended to all-year around. Within reason, people should wear what they feel comfortable in, the incoming managing partner says:

“My job [as a lawyer] is to connect with people and apply my brain to solve their problems as best I can. How formally I’m dressed has no bearing on that.”

He welcomes the increased informality of the modern world, as long as his staff bring their best self to work.

Moore says that the market regards the firm highly for its entrepreneurial nature and commercial approach. He describes Arthur Cox as “culturally different” from many of its competitors.

Healthy rivalry

Of their closest rival in terms of size – A&L Goodbody – Moore welcomes the healthy rivalry that results from having two stellar law firms across the river from each other in the capital. He says that Ireland, as well as domestic and international clients, need this level of excellence – matching anything that’s available on Wall Street or in London.

He welcomes the increased investment in technology at the courts, and is in awe of the “outrageous brain” of Chief Justice Frank Clarke.

“He’s a breath of fresh air,” he says, referring admiringly to Clarke’s modernising influence and general legal brilliance.

“He is very willing to get on a plane and market the Irish judicial system, and that’s a sea change from the stuffy, dusty courtrooms of 20 years ago.”

 

Mary Hallissey
Mary Hallissey is a journalist at Gazette.ie