There is some good news for legal professionals in our annual survey, but staffing challenges are growing
Many Irish lawyers have experienced a “Brexit bounce” over the past year, a new survey for the Sunday Independent’s second annual list of the best law firms in Ireland reveals.
Almost a third of solicitors said Brexit had helped their business, creating additional work and opportunities, while fears of a negative impact, previously expressed by around a fifth of solicitors, largely failed to materialise.
However, the ‘Best Law Firms 2023’ survey indicates other potential storm clouds loom for leaders in the sector.
Recruiting suitably qualified staff and retaining talent could become increasingly challenging in the post-pandemic era as employees place more emphasis on work/life balance and job satisfaction.
A measure of this is that a majority of solicitors surveyed (54.2pc) said they would not recommend their child follow in their footsteps due to stress levels, long hours and lack of work/life balance.
In answer to the same question last year, just 46.4pc said they would not recommend the job to their child.
The ‘Best Law Firms 2023’ survey was conducted by business data firm Statista between March and May of this year, with 1,026 legal professionals taking part.
As well as expressing their views on topics affecting the industry, respondents voted for firms they believed should be included in the list and the area of specialisation where those firms excel. Respondents could not vote for their own practice.
Unsurprisingly, well-established full-service law firms figured at the top of the list, with Matheson being recommended in 15 areas of specialisation; A&L Goodbody, 13; McCann FitzGerald, 12; and Arthur Cox, Mason Hayes & Curran and William Fry with 11 each.
It is also no surprise that Dublin dominates, with 75 firms having offices in the capital or Co Dublin, 16 having offices in Cork, eight in Galway, three in Limerick, three in Wicklow, two in Tipperary and one each in Waterford, Westmeath, Kilkenny, Sligo, Mayo and Roscommon.
Eleven firms on the list have offices in more than one county. One firm listed, personal injury and medical negligence specialists Callan Tansey, has offices in six different counties.
Commercial property was the most common area of specialisation where a commendation was given, featuring for 24 out of the 100 firms who made the list.
The next most prevalent were corporate law (22), employment (20), banking and finance (18), data protection and information technology (14), commercial dispute resolution (12), personal injuries and medical negligence (11), and mergers and acquisitions (11).
Seven firms on the list were commended for their specialisation in criminal law. They were Dublin firms Michael J Staines & Company, ME Hanahoe Solicitors, Shalom Binchy & Co Solicitors, and Sheehan & Partners; Cork firm Frank Buttimer & Company; Limerick firm Darach McCarthy & Co; and Waterford firm Newell, Gillen & Cunningham.
Firms with niche specialisations also featured in the list. These included Holohan Lane (personal insolvency), Noble Shipping Law (maritime and shipping) and both Hayes Solicitors and Philip Lee in the area of media and entertainment.
Practices specialising in charities law featured on the list for the first time this year. These included Leixlip firm Keogan Law & Tax and Dublin firms O’Connell Brennan and O’Connor Solicitors.
Key issues addressed in the survey included Brexit, with 28.1pc of respondents saying it had helped their business, while 65.2pc said it had not affected their business at all.
Of the 6.7pc of respondents who said Brexit had a negative impact on them, issues cited ranged from jurisdictional problems in family law cases to the cost of office supplies.
Responses to the survey indicated increasing concerns that the work of solicitors is becoming more difficult due to overburdened courts and red tape.
A total of 62.2pc of respondents said the biggest problem in the judicial sector was overburdened authorities, up from 48.9pc the previous year.
A majority of respondents (64.8pc) said they believed the level of regulation by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) was sufficient, while almost a third (29.1pc) said they believed the profession was being over-regulated. Just 6pc said there was too little regulation.
Some solicitors said they were satisfied with the level of regulation but claimed the LSRA needed to speed up its handling of complaints.
Almost two-thirds of respondents (60.1pc) said a shortage of skilled employees for hire would be among the developments which would influence their law firm most in the coming years. Last year the percentage expressing this concern was just 26.3pc.
Respondents cited better salaries in the UK and Dubai, bigger law firms monopolising the market, lack of apprenticeships in firms outside Dublin, and emigration as being behind the shortages.
One remarked that the priorities of employees had changed coming out of the pandemic and that the work culture of law firms need to be more aligned with such priorities.
Over a third (36.1pc) said digitalisation would be among the most influential developments. “Clients are embracing rapid technological enhancements and expect the same from their professional advisers,” said one solicitor.
Another said: “Downward pressure on legal fees means we will need to use technology to deliver work product more cost-effectively.”
Some of the most interesting comments were made in response to the question of whether solicitors would recommend to their child that they follow in their footsteps.
Of those who wouldn’t recommend it to their child, issues cited included “long hours”, “stress” and “poor work/life balance”.
“Because the pressure and the stress you are under on a daily basis is not worth the financial rewards in the business,” said one practitioner. Of those who would, common responses were that working in the law was “a great career”, “rewarding” and “fulfilling”.
“It’s a privilege to work in law, to see cases and laws developing change, and to work closely with individuals at a time of great stress and pressure, and to help bring about a resolution to the difficulties in which they find themselves,” said one solicitor.