Legal eagles spreading their wings in a changing world

Cork-founded law firm Ronan Daly Jermyn (RDJ) was recently named Law Firm of the Year at the Irish Law Awards. Pádraig Hoare talks with managing partner Richard Martin.

The legal profession is evolving at a rapid rate, ensconced in the breakneck technological advances that have changed how business is conducted beyond recognition in the past decade — and Cork-founded law firm Ronan Daly Jermyn (RDJ) has made sure it is at the coalface of those changes.

From its beginnings in Cork, RDJ now has 230 staff on its books, with offices in Cork, Dublin, Galway and London. Working mainly with corporate and company clients, RDJ has alliances with law firms in the North, the UK and the US, meaning its legal footprint is to be found across Europe, the US and Asia.

The firm has outgrown its offices in Dublin and is to move into the Exchange building at the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) later this year.

Managing partner Richard Martin said: “Although we are Cork-headquartered, we have been looking at Dublin for a long time. We opened in November 2014 with eight people and we have 40 there now. Such that we have agreed to take up new office space at the brand new exchange building in the IFSC in mid-October.”

Increased relocation by the world’s top law firms into Ireland post-Brexit means RDJ has to respond accordingly, said Mr Martin. The same applies for any business — if world class industry locates to Ireland post-Brexit, then Irish business will be compelled to respond, which means greater demand for premium office space.

“It is no secret two major international law firms, one of which is in fact the biggest in the world, DLA Piper, and Pinsent Masons are both coming to Dublin. While there has been, over the years, some UK law firms coming to Dublin, the UK law firms that have come so far have all been boutique insurance law firms. What is happening now is the major international law firms are looking at Dublin. These will be competitors so we have to be at the races 100%,” he said.

Moving from personal services towards corporate representation has meant RDJ’s reliance on technology has grown exponentially, he said.

“In excess of 95% of our revenue comes from companies and corporations of whatever size, whether they are SMEs or multinationals, which now means so much of how our business is transacted now is underpinned by technology. Gone are the days where necessarily you need to be sitting across the table for every single conversation or meeting that you have. We have clients right across the world. You’re using technology to talk, you’re using it to deliver those services and also to compete. The market is highly competitive. Technology can give you an edge,” he added.

While IT doesn’t seem at first glance to an outsider to necessarily be an integral part of legal services, a closer look reveals it to be vital.

Mr Martin said: “I believe law firms, and all professional services, will in 10 years be unrecognisable to what they are now. We have just introduced a software system where you can directly access our systems from your mobile phone. I don’t have to send faxes or emails, you can come straight into our system and look at data rooms. You can access certain parts of your file through an app. We’ve taken out a substantial part of the human element. It’s incredibly secure and there are a series of security hurdles to get through — it is more secure than if I sent you information by email or whatever.”

Reliance on technology brings its own challenges for corporations and small business alike — all will have to prepare for the incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that comes into force in May next year. The regulation is designed to harmonise data privacy laws across Europe and to protect citizens’ data privacy. It not only applies to organisations within the EU but also to firms that do business inside member states. If companies fail to comply with the regulation, they can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover, or €20m.

Mr Martin said: “We have a team of nine lawyers now involved in data protection and in the overall GDPR coming in next year. I would say that the level of active awareness in Ireland at the moment is still pretty low in terms of how this will affect each and every business. Because it will, without a shadow of a doubt.

“We are seeing a lot more enquiries coming to us but those enquiries tend to be more from the bigger organisations. I suppose they have a higher level of awareness and they have teams that look after that section. For some SMEs, the level of awareness is not what it should be. One of the things — and it will be key — if you have a data breach, the reporting of it is not a mandatory obligation as it is in other jurisdictions. Post GDPR, it will be,” he said.

“There is always going to be a need for lawyers. The demand now is higher than it has been for years. There are people suited to debating and there are people who are technically savvy. For sure, there is certainly room for both. For the people we see opposite the table being interviewed, when you see the fire in the belly to do the job, they will always succeed,” he said.


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