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In a world of uncertainties, trade lawyers are suddenly in demand

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Forward-looking: Eversheds Sutherland Dublin managing partner Alan Murphy is keen to make the most of new technology, while tapping into his firm’s international strength. Photo: Mark Condren

Forward-looking: Eversheds Sutherland Dublin managing partner Alan Murphy is keen to make the most of new technology, while tapping into his firm’s international strength. Photo: Mark Condren

Forward-looking: Eversheds Sutherland Dublin managing partner Alan Murphy is keen to make the most of new technology, while tapping into his firm’s international strength. Photo: Mark Condren

As managing partner of the Irish arm of global legal firm Eversheds Sutherland for the past 12 years, Alan Murphy had a front seat as the country went through some major changes.

With Brexit clouds hanging over Ireland today, the Monaghan native says our culture will serve us well in the future.

"Our culture as a country is very important to us now, particularly with Brexit. I think it defines us and I think it will in the medium to long term serve us very well," he says.

"It is a very open culture. It's seen as a progressive culture that welcomes diversity and inclusion, and all of that translates into people wanting to come here to do business and to set up business," he adds.

Today, there is continued uncertainty over what type of exit the UK will make from the European Union, and over future trading agreements between the two.

On the back of this, Murphy sees a greater demand for trade lawyers.

"Trade lawyers weren't really that important, let's say. I don't want to insult any trade lawyer in the past because it was all about the EU rules.

"But now there are a whole lot of new trade laws going to be introduced and we are going to need trade lawyers to advise clients on those."

For now, while the firm's clients may have concerns, "it is very much a wait-and-see approach [to Brexit]".

"It is not certain what the position is going to be. But even now you would have a number of concerns: trade, tariffs, finance, things like FX, logistics, which would then feed into real estate. A lot of companies have established warehousing in very different parts, say Northern Ireland, the UK, Republic of Ireland, and they have stockpiled materials, so it is all about general business and how that is going to be affected," he says.

The father of three, who worked in Sligo and Wexford before making the move to Dublin, does not have the most traditional legal background.

Before coming to Dublin to study law, he did a primary degree at Queen's University in English and history.

As he explains: "I did the Leaving Cert at 16. My parents believed in an holistic approach to education; they wanted me to do a general degree first rather than just jumping straight into law.

"I never regret doing that degree; it was a brilliant grounding, hugely important in terms of personal development that's necessary to be a good lawyer."

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Having joined the firm in 2000, Murphy progressed up the ranks, becoming managing partner in 2008, just as the country entered recession.

"I have seen every side of the coin in terms of the growth and the development of the firm, the challenges a recession brings and the opportunities that come from a return to economic growth," he says.

"Obviously, that all requires a different skill set. One particular economic period requires one skill set and then another economic period will require something else. That's been hugely interesting to me from a personal perspective."

During the recession, Murphy says the "significant slowdown" across Ireland affected "all of the law firms". "It was a question of rationalising, concentrating on clients' needs and then growing out of that."

The company also invested in areas it found clients needed services in, and to build those areas.

"The one huge advantage we had was the international piece. The world, despite what might be happening politically in certain countries, is increasingly becoming more globalised and so clients need to become more globalised. It's all multi-jurisdictional. It is that aspect that is hugely useful for us.

"During the recession, clients would have been looking at restructuring, financing [and] project plans to ensure their business could come out of recession and return to growth."

With the country having coming out of recession and returning to economic growth, "there is much more M&A activity", he notes.

"[Today] there would be much more buying and selling, there is more liquidity in the market. The legal services at a particular juncture reflect the economic cycle at that particular juncture; they very much mirror each other," Murphy says.

The Irish arm of Eversheds Sutherland deals with both indigenous clients, who require help in areas such as employment, data protection, cybersecurity, corporate, real estate and pensions - and with international clients operating in Ireland.

"[Our clients] would in some instances be clients of the international firm, or US companies would ask us to get involved in something. Or they would be global clients, who know that we are a global law firm in Ireland so, therefore, they can use our services."

One of the main areas of business for the company is in tax.

"Our US firm has a very strong presence in legal tax and we have a very strong tax team here, so we are able to provide an Irish-US offering. There would be other areas such as data protection, cyber, intellectual property. We have seen accelerated growth in those areas."

It also offers bespoke services for sectors that incorporate data centres.

"We would have a specialist data centre group here. I had not realised how complex a data centre actually was, but it really is," Murphy says.

He is keen to stress the importance of the law firm as part of a much bigger company, something he illustrates with the group's representation of equestrian rider Cian O'Connor.

"I was driving up the wilds of Donegal a few years ago and Cian phoned me and said, 'I'm before a tribunal of the Olympic Council tomorrow, can you represent me?'

"This was in London. We actually have an equine tribunal expert in the London office. I was able to phone him back and literally the next day, which was a weekend, he represented Cian at that tribunal.

"So it is about that ease of access to colleagues across the world and that seamless service if the client has an issue in a particular jurisdiction. It is not just a name at the other end of a phone, it is someone we actually know."

Going forward, Eversheds Sutherland will put a lot of investment into its technology capabilities.

As well as a new project management system, it has "a couple" of artificial intelligence (AI) projects that it is working on.

Murphy concludes: "My view is in a law firm, technology assists and helps innovation.

"We have an AI product that can read thousands of documents to find a particular thing and therefore can reduce months of manual reading to a couple of hours."

Having witnessed plenty of change so far in his career, it is clear that the history graduate has no intention of keeping the law firm stuck in the past.

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