Sean Cully, Associate Director, and Sarah Bailey, Senior Associate, discuss the Irish private practice market in 2023 and share their predictions for the coming year

From Sean Cully and Sarah Bailey

As we step into 2024, Dublin's legal landscape is witnessing the emergence of new players, the continued demand for mid-level associates across a number of key areas, and the continued dominance of the Top 6 domestic firms.

2023 was another buoyant year for the Irish legal market, with further growth set for 2024. However, issues such as inflationary pressures, rising costs, employee retention and talent shortages were key issues for law firms throughout 2023.

Overseas entrants – and lawyers

The competitive legal landscape in Ireland intensifies the struggle for talent acquisition and staff retention. In response to this, we have seen a large number of lawyers from outside Ireland joining the domestic firms, coming in particular from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

While the private practice market remains dominated by the domestic Top 6, it has experienced significant change over the last few years with a substantial number of new law firm entrants bringing fresh perspectives and offering alternatives away from the more established firms.

For example, over the last 12 months, Dublin saw the arrival of K&L Gates in January focusing on Funds, Squire Patton Boggs in May with a focus on Corporate and Bristows in June with a focus on IP.

The ongoing expansion plans of UK and international law firms moving into Dublin has been unprecedented along with their high level of investment in recruitment. DLA Piper now has over 100 employees in the Dublin office and both Simmons & Simmons and Dentons moved into new office spaces with a view to doubling the size of their Dublin teams over the new few years.

In a further demonstration of a commitment to the Irish market, Bird & Bird, Taylor Wessing and Dentons are all due to launch Dublin based trainee programmes.

Talent shortages

In 2024 we expect to see further growth, notably with additional US law firms setting up a base in Dublin. New firms have been spending big to attract high-calibre lawyers, notably at partner level, from the established domestic competitors.

However, recruitment hasn’t been easy for the newbies due to a shortage of talent as well as many in the market being hesitant to take the leap from well-established domestic teams. This will of course change as firms become more established and they can demonstrate that they are ‘here to stay’.

Dublin becoming “broader and more diverse”

Dublin now has a much broader and more diverse private practice market than it did five or even three years ago, that presents different options for lawyers looking to move that are now wider than simply which is the highest payer. Irish firms now have to pay attention to developing collaborative cultures and transparent career progression to remain attractive and to retain the best talent in 2024.

Recruiting and retaining mid-level Associates remains significantly challenging, with many domestic firms increasing their strategies to looking to attract returners from London and overseas.

In particular, lawyers with experience in key demand areas include: corporate, energy and projects, technology, finance and life sciences. Employment has also been an area that has seen huge demand among firm in 2023, particularly at the 3-5 PQE level.

Beyond the capital

Overall, Dublin remains the key legal centre in Ireland for the private practice market. However, an increasing number of domestic firms have been strengthening their presence in other parts of Ireland including Galway and Cork, as well as strengthening ties in Northern Ireland.

Both Matheson and William Fry now have well-established Cork offices and Cork-based firm RDJ recently moved into a larger premises in Cork City Centre.

As law firms traverse the challenges of 2023, from regulatory complexities to talent management and technology integration, their ability to proactively address these issues will determine their resilience and success in attracting fresh talent.

Dublin's continued ascent as a legal hub in 2023 is not just a testament to its economic prowess but also to its evolving legal landscape. As law firms strategically position themselves in the city, Dublin is poised to play a central role in shaping the future of legal services in Europe.

The relationship between Dublin and these law firms reflects a fusion of global legal expertise and Ireland's rich business environment, promising exciting opportunities for those within the legal sector in the year ahead.

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