Saturday 22 October 2016

The right moves: Big changes in conveyancing

Paul McNeive

Published 16/04/2015 | 02:30

Evin McCarthyhas worked with Nama and in private practice
Evin McCarthyhas worked with Nama and in private practice

The property business has seen more change in the last seven years than in the previous 70 and not least for lawyers. Evin McCarthy, a partner with Ronan Daly Jermyn (RDJ) solicitors has seen many aspects of conveyancing, both in private practice and with Nama.

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I spoke to him about the changing world of conveyancing.

Mr McCarthy qualified in 2002 and worked with a small firm before joining Beauchamps in Dublin and then RDJ's Cork office. He joined Nama in January 2011 before rejoining RDJ last year. He describes his years with Nama as "fantastically enjoyable work, at the coalface of an extraordinary period in Irish business."

His work there saw the full spectrum of legal advice from conveyancing to banking, corporate restructuring and litigation. It's a measure of the ramping up of Nama's activity that in Evin McCarthy's time there its "in-house" legal team grew from 10 to 60 people, excluding outsourcing.

Mr McCarthy says that his time with the state bad bank gave him a good view of "being in the clients shoes, as a procurer of legal services, and a greater understanding of the business aspects surrounding each client."

Back in private practice, outsourced work from financial institutions continues to be a good part of RDJ's business and that includes "work-out solutions" with debtors, banking and security issues, enforcement actions and asset and loan sales. RDJ acted for Nama as lender for the development of Airbnb's new headquarters on Hanover Quay, Dublin 2.

Other work is arising from the banks tentative return to development financing although the banks still insist on a pre-letting. Even then loan to value ratios are challenging and "mezzanine finance" is increasingly plugging the equity gap. Receivership sales are still an active source of business and Mr McCarthy is seeing an increase in business from retailers taking new leases and he can see the "balance of power" in lease negotiations shifting back towards the landlord.

A big change over the last seven years for Ireland's lawyers is the high proportion of instructions that have to be competed for by tender. All Nama work, receiver work and bank work is tendered to at least three firms and Evin McCarthy says he spends three or four hours per week completing tenders. He feels that tenders are weighted 50 to 60pc towards fees with service and experience accounting for the remainder.

RDJ's offices in Dublin, Cork and Galway bring the staff numbers over 190 and its national presence is helping to win instructions where portfolios include regional properties. The firm's new London office is proving to be a good source of business into Ireland.

Another shift in the business is that clients are demanding increased specialisation as conveyancing becomes more complex. "The Jack of all trades" approach has caused problems in the past" says Evin McCarthy although an anomaly is that today's lawyers need good experience in the ancillary areas such as banking and taxation in order to assess risks and opportunities for clients.

Similarly to agency, conveyancing is experiencing a "talent cliff" as law students avoided property options following the property collapse. The result is that there is intense competition for lawyers at the sub-partner level. Contrary to agency, the majority of recent law graduates are women.

Another interesting development in the market, according to Mr McCarthy, is that there are lots of new people involved, ranging from new players in Ireland (like private equity funds) together with a rotation of staff in banks and estate agents. All of this is keeping lawyers busy and Evin McCarthy says that long days and weekends in the office are routine.

In an increasingly busy market I suspect that Ireland's lawyers will be burning plenty of midnight oil during 2015.

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