Dublin

The Irish Development Agency (IDA) has launched a charm offensive to promote the appeal of Ireland as a legal center and encourage international law firms to open offices in Dublin.

The IDA, the state body responsible for attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland, is working with Irish government agencies to convince firms of the benefits of having a base in Dublin.

Managing partners at leading U.K. and international law firms in London have confirmed that the IDA has approached them to discuss Dublin’s appeal as a potential office location, particularly in light of the U.K.’s upcoming withdrawal from the European Union.

“The IDA has been in talks with lots of law firms,” said one managing partner at a global firm. “It wasn’t so much to say you must come to Ireland; plainly they are saying that. It was more to say, ‘If you ever have a willingness to come, we can be helpful and navigate regulatory issues.’”

IDA senior vice president for technology, consumer and business services Shane Nolan confirmed that the agency has been approaching law firms, adding that it was working alongside the Irish Department of Justice, the Irish Law Society and the Irish Bar Council.

“We still don’t want Brexit to happen; we’d rather it was all a bad dream,” Nolan said. “But if people have to move to gain access to the European market, we’d rather they came here than anywhere else in Europe, and legal services is no different to other sectors.”

He said the IDA has been talking to “a good chunk of the top firms” in the U.K., in particular, firms with an international focus, as the IDA has a specific mandate to boost cross-border trade and investment by foreign-owned companies.

“A wide variety of firms in the U.K. will have a tidy domestic business; we have nothing really of value to offer them,” he said. “Our focus is on international firms.”

Three firms have confirmed plans to open in Dublin since the Brexit vote in June 2016: Pinsent MasonsCovington & Burling and Simmons & Simmons, while Fieldfisher is also seriously considering a launch there.

Nolan predicted that more international firms are likely to follow.

“I would imagine there will be more, based on the conversations we are having and where those firms are in those decision-making processes,” he said.

In addition to law firms opening Irish offices, English-qualified solicitors have been joining the Irish roll of solicitors in increasing numbers, both before and after the Brexit vote. According to the Irish Law Society, 459 solicitors from England and Wales were admitted to the Irish roll of solicitors in 2017, while 806 were admitted in 2016. Prior to the Brexit vote, about 50 to 100 would join the roll in a typical year.

Irish Bar Council member Patrick Leonard SC, who is coordinating the Bar of Ireland’s efforts to promote the use of Irish law, echoed Nolan’s comments.

“We expect to see an increase in the amount of legal work done in Ireland as a consequence of Brexit,” he said. “We expect to see more U.S. and English firms setting up in Ireland, and we are already seeing a small number of U.K. barristers applying to join the Bar of Ireland.”

Nolan said seven barristers from England and Wales had joined the Irish Bar this year.

Separately, Pinsent Masons recently announced that it had signed a lease for 9,800 square feet of office space in Dublin, which Pinsent partner and board member Joanne Ellis confirmed could house up to 70 staff and 10-12 partners.

“The Dublin market has been incredibly encouraging towards Pinsent,” Ellis said. “We couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome and have had a huge amount of support from the Law Society of Ireland, the IDA, other industry bodies and our advisers on the ground.”