BUSI­NESS LESSONS

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

WE do a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tion in this busi­ness. If you’re a dis­putes lawyer, or a cor­po­rate or fi­nance or real es­tate lawyer, a lot of your job is ne­go­ti­at­ing deals for your clients to get them the best terms. We can of­ten be judged on how well or not you suc­ceed in that.

Go­ing back to my Clif­ford Chance days, my men­tor Neil Harvey was a bril­liant ne­go­tia­tor. Be­fore ev­ery ne­go­ti­a­tion he asked his client what re­ally mat­tered and what didn’t mat­ter.

In the past I’ve seen peo­ple try­ing to win ev­ery­thing. You can get caught up in think­ing ev­ery­thing is im­por­tant but what he was say­ing was that for some clients, three or four or five things re­ally mat­ter and you need to un­der­stand those. Ev­ery­thing you do on that deal has to re­volve around get­ting them the best deal. And the five or six or seven other things that other clients might care about can be traded if your client doesn’t care about them.

You’ve got to work out what your client wants and of­ten it’s a hand­ful of things.

I’ve had that les­son at an early stage. Ne­go­ti­at­ing is some­thing I like do­ing and that was one of the key lessons.

“The other area of growth is around cy­ber­se­cu­rity and pri­vacy. The tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion team here is very en­gaged in deal­ing with cy­ber risk and I sup­pose the ex­plo­sion in data cre­ation by the tech com­pa­nies has been a boon for our team here.”

Asked about buy­ing other law firms, he won’t rule any­thing out. “We’re al­ways look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties whether it’s to open an of­fice in the US or make ju­di­cious hir­ings,” Dev­ereux adds.

The Laois na­tive (54) spent many years work­ing on cor­po­rate trans­ac­tions be­fore be­ing elected man­ag­ing part­ner nearly three years ago. It was a steep learn­ing curve in the early days, but a chal­lenge that Dev­ereux rel­ished.

“The job of a man­ag­ing part­ner is to lead a firm and set a di­rec­tion for the firm with the part­ners, and to be crys­tal clear about where you’re go­ing and how you get there. My job is to cre­ate the en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple want to do their best and en­cour­age them to do that. I learned a lot about peo­ple and dy­nam­ics and get­ting the best out of peo­ple,” says Dev­ereux, who wanted to take the job be­cause he felt he could make a greater con­tri­bu­tion as leader.

Many lawyers come from fam­i­lies with le­gal back­grounds, but not him. In­stead it was the US fic­tional tele­vi­sion se­ries The Pa­per Chase — trac­ing the lives of stu­dents at Har­vard Law School — that made him want to en­ter the pro­fes­sion.

Be­com­ing a bar­ris­ter didn’t ap­peal; help­ing busi­nesses do deals ex­cited him more than bring­ing cases to trial and so he be­came a so­lic­i­tor, qual­i­fy­ing in the late 1980s. The Ir­ish econ­omy was a mess and so like most of his class Dev­ereux em­i­grated, in his case to Lon­don, where he ended up work­ing for Clif­ford Chance.

Af­ter seven years, he moved to work in the firm’s Sin­ga­pore of­fice, which helped fuel his love of tech­nol­ogy. “Sin­ga­pore is the size of Laois but yet it moved from be­ing an agrar­ian so­ci­ety 50 years ago with no nat­u­ral re­sources, to be­com­ing a huge trad­ing port and mak­ing the most of what they had by in­vest­ing in R&D and in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy,” says Dev­ereux.

“I see a lot of par­al­lels with Ire­land, which is on the western pe­riph­ery of Europe but now mak­ing a lot out of the re­sources we have.

“If I’m to say why am I so fas­ci­nated with tech­nol­ogy, some of it has to be traced back to what I could see could be done by that ad­vanced think­ing.”

Dev­ereux has his ear close to the ground in the Ir­ish busi­ness world and has no­ticed a num­ber of trends emerg­ing in re­cent times. One is an in­creas­ing ac­cep­tance of ven­ture cap­i­tal and pri­vate eq­uity, which is help­ing busi­nesses grow to a greater scale be­fore sell­ing out to multi­na­tion­als.

“We’ve acted on many deals where a US or an Is­raeli com­pany has come in and bought an Ir­ish com­pany for €50m-€100m. Mostly the rea­son for sell­ing is that the in­dige­nous firm hasn’t the re­sources to scale up.

“While we’ve made a lot of progress with those busi­nesses and ob­vi­ously they’ve been clients of ours, it is a source of con­cern that we are sell­ing out the com­pa­nies at an ear­lier stage.”

An­other trend Dev­ereux notes that might help with that is the re­turn of the IPO mar­ket – led this year by AIB and Green­coat Re­new­ables. A third is the emer­gence of al­ter­na­tive lenders like Broad­haven or Blue­bay.

Change is afoot, too, in the con­struc­tion sec­tor due to the short­age of com­pleted in­vest­ment prop­er­ties.

In­sti­tu­tional in­vestors are now get­ting in­volved with projects at the devel­op­ment stage as they search for yield, while an up­lift in reg­u­la­tory in­ves­ti­ga­tions from the likes of the Cen­tral Bank or the Euro­pean au­thor­i­ties has also been a boon to the firm.

In­side Mccann, the types of peo­ple the busi­ness is hir­ing is also evolv­ing. “In the past we would tra­di­tion­ally have hired law stu­dents or arts stu­dents but now in the last few years we have peo­ple whose de­grees are in mu­sic, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and psy­chol­ogy. We’re mix­ing up the back­grounds be­cause all the stud­ies show and our own ex­pe­ri­ence shows that the more di­verse the in­put, the bet­ter the prod­uct you have.”

Brexit presents an­other chal­lenge, with law firms like Pin­sent Ma­sons and DLA Piper out­lin­ing plans to set up a pres­ence here, while a huge num­ber of so­lic­i­tors from Fresh­fields Bruck­haus Deringer have sought en­try to the Ir­ish roll of so­lic­i­tors. Is Dev­ereux con­cerned about this com­pe­ti­tion?

“If there’s a mi­gra­tion as there will be of fi­nan­cial ser­vices clients coming to Ire­land be­cause of Brexit, and we’re see­ing a lot of that, it’s to be ex­pected that the big law firms who ser­vice those clients out of Lon­don won’t sim­ply be happy to pass them over to Ir­ish law firms.

“So I think you will see some ju­di­cious hir­ing by th­ese firms of lawyers in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices space. I don’t see them hav­ing huge op­er­a­tions but I would imag­ine they’ll want to have a ca­pa­bil­ity to ser­vice those clients in con­junc­tion with us.

“Am I con­cerned? I would say we’re tak­ing note of what’s hap­pen­ing and our job is to con­tin­u­ally en­sure that we are pro­vid­ing the best ser­vice. Com­pe­ti­tion brings out the best in you and it’s bring­ing out the best in us.

“We have to con­tin­u­ally come back to rein­vent our­selves, which is where tech­nol­ogy I think is for us a dif­fer­en­tia­tor. And we feel we’ve made a lot of ground in the last two years.”

Dev­ereux is en­ter­ing the third year of his four-year term as man­ag­ing part­ner and be­fore too long his fel­low part­ners in Mccann will pass their judg­ment on whether his tech­nol­ogy drive has been a suc­cess.

For now, he just wants to stay on the jour­ney.

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