Moving to Ireland: Is the grass greener for UK firms?

In this week’s edition of our Member & Expert Opinion Series, Marc Lowry; Head of Business Development, Dublin, Smith & Williamsonlooks at UK firms interested in setting up bases in Ireland.

The opportunities are increasingly appealing, for law firms and their people – but it is unclear whether the message has got through to British outfits.

Over 1,000 new practising certificates have been registered at the Irish Law Society since the Brexit referendum in June 2016. Whether this continues has yet to be seen but the potential movement of lawyers between Dublin and London will now largely depend on the nature of Brexit and on EU law.

This opportunity or conundrum, and others, were discussed at a recent seminar held by Smith & Williamson in London, which brought together representatives from leading British and Irish law firms, as well as John McGrane of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.

Focusing more on today than tomorrow

British firms are currently in a state of flux. As highlighted in our survey of UK Law Firms recently, UK legal firms are struggling to differentiate themselves within their own market, let alone consider their nearest neighbours and market. Market changing moves, such as accountancy firms starting legal practices, increased competition and cost pressures are having a dramatic impact on the marketplace. While fees may be increasing, profit margins are down.

The day-to-day practical practice management is more tangible than the long term unknowns of Brexit – but this does not mean that firms should be ignoring this strategic issue entirely! In both markets, most firms aren’t “wasting time” and money dealing with the uncertainty of Brexit – they are more focused on what is happening to them now. But are firms wasting a good crisis? It will be important for regional and indeed large firms to consider markets beyond their own 20-mile radius or immediate marketplace and look for new opportunities further afield. This goes for Irish firms looking to opportunities in the UK market as much as UK firms looking to Ireland.

Mutterings of movement

Our latest research into Irish law firms indicates that all of the top firms believe that Brexit will have a significant impact on the legal profession over the next five years, with 86% of the Top 20 firms and almost one in two of all other firms anticipating the entry of UK firms into the Irish market as the main source of potential competition over the next three years.

In terms of strategy, Irish firms are ahead of their UK counterparts. Our research indicates that most of the Top 20 firms (83%) have prepared a Brexit strategy and that 73% of these have already executed this plan. However, for the rest of firms only 3% have prepared a Brexit strategy in spite of most firms seeing Brexit as either a threat to, or opportunity for, their firm.

Although some UK law firms have established a presence or increased their footprint in the Irish market in the last twelve months, our latest research into UK law firms found that only 23% had a strategy in place that deals with Brexit. Many firms are clearly holding off on making substantive changes to their operations as they wait for more clarity. But time and opportunity march on.

Will the people come?

UK law firms that have set up, or are about to set up, greenfield offices in Dublin post-Brexit are, and will be, seeking to recruit talented partners and teams. When British firms start considering Ireland, one of the key decisions will be whether to relocate lawyers or hire the talent locally. It is inevitable that more lateral hires will result. This will lead to increased competition at all levels including post qualified and graduate levels and consequent potential salary inflation. Partners’ salaries may have to be adjusted to attract the right talent and teams. Accommodation in Dublin can be an issue and there are also personal tax concerns. These costs must be factored into considerations and business plans.

Smith & Williamson have a dedicated professional practice services team centred on providing a quality service to our growing list of legal firm clients. Based in with offices in Ireland and the UK, we seek to deliver tailored services focused on your individual firm’s needs.


Marc Lowry; Head of Business Development Dublin, Smith & Williamson.

Marc’s areas of expertise include Commercial Management, Business Development Leadership, Client Services, Professional Services, Commercial Strategy and Consulting. Marc helps ambitious business leaders and founders achieve their personal aspirations, as well as the financial goals and objectives of the companies they run. He leads Smith & Williamson’s Scale-Up programme in Dublin, providing an integrated suite of solutions, expertise and support, designed to help businesses grow quickly and achieve success. He has a background in strategic, commercial and enterprise sales leadership roles in financial services, employee benefits and industrial goods. He has experience providing strategy and consulting advice to a variety of businesses in a diverse range of sectors.


The views and opinions expressed by authors are their own and do not reflect the official position of the Chamber but are simply an illustration of the various opinions reflective of the diverse Chamber membership. Should you wish to contribute to the Member and Expert Opinion Series, please contact for further information.

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