Lawyer Fionán Breathnach who has led Simmons & Simmons in Ireland since early 2018, has said that the firm was considering an operation in this country long before Brexit.
The strength of the firm’s asset management and investment funds practice made Dublin a natural candidate for any expansion plans, he points out.
“A lot of our significant asset management and financial institution clients see Ireland as increasingly important in their international planning,” he notes.
While not welcoming Brexit, the asset specialist lawyer welcomes the opportunities it has brought for this country, as an English-speaking common law jurisdiction with a strong commercial court.
Higher-value jobs have found their way to Ireland as a result of Britain’s exit from the EU, he believes.
Simmons & Simmons now has 50 staff in its Grand Canal basin office, with 40 fee-earners. The focus is on funds, financial regulation, banking and finance, capital markets, tax, corporate real estate, and dispute resolution.
Breathnach joined from top five firm Mason Hayes & Curran, which he joined in 2004 to set up their funds and financial regulation practice.
The Trinity law graduate qualified as a solicitor in 1995 and trained at William Fry. He also worked in house within the funds industry for the Bank of Bermuda where he was legal counsel for the Irish business.
Over the span of his career, Breathnach has witnessed phenomenal growth in asset management.
“To be fair, the funds industry has proved to be extremely resilient. It's only in more recent years that its importance to the Irish economy has been acknowledged, with something in the region of 31,000 employed either directly or indirectly, and they are good, high-value jobs, many of them in legal roles.”
Another result of Brexit is significantly more opportunities for young lawyers here, he adds, as the London financial services industry fragmented and relocated – to Germany, France, Luxembourg and Ireland.
His clients find Ireland appealing, given both its proximity and familiarity although Breathnach has no doubt that London will continue to be a key global financial centre.
“The Central Bank of Ireland is highly regarded among our clients,” he notes.
“To have a robust regulatory framework, in terms of prudential supervision, is key,” he adds.
The offer to lead the Simmons & Simmons office in Dublin was attractive for the opportunity that it gave to work with global teams, Breathnach says.
The 125-year-old law firm has a culture of collaboration, a dispersed global equity partnership arrangement, and a focus on work-life balance that was very appealing to him.
Being able to call upon a broader range of expertise is also “energizing”, and brings quicker solutions for clients, he says.
“That kind of globalized, dynamic work environment is very stimulating and has been really rewarding for us.
“I think clients that are operating in international sectors are increasingly going to be looking for law firms that can support them so that they are not dealing with the matrix of different firms and different countries.
“Young lawyers with energy and ambition can see that, and they can see a more global career for themselves,” he said.
The firm is also examining what a next generation law firm should look like with, turning over questions of hybrid work and so on.