Whilst we currently find ourselves in uncertain times from a global health and economic standpoint, the Irish legal sector has welcomed a number of recent ground-breaking changes. These clarify the forum and manner in which solicitors can practice.
Solicitors becoming Senior Counsel
Solicitors can now apply to become senior counsel under changes passed in legislation five years ago and now coming into force, overturning a 300-year-old rule.
Whilst solicitors have always had a right of advocacy in all courts since 1971, up to now the right to be a senior counsel was only given by the government to practicing barristers, following a decision to grant so-called “patents of precedence”. However, junior solicitors and barristers can now apply to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority to become senior counsel by the 24 July 2020 deadline.
Solicitors chosen will still be solicitors, and not barristers.
Applicants must display competence and probity and professional independence, have excellent advocacy skills and a knowledge of specialist litigation, be of good character and tax compliant.
In a recent interview, Ken Murphy, Director-General of the Law Society of Ireland, said that applicants “.... must be willing to advance an argument that is not popular and be committed to their duty to the court, particularly where that duty may conflict with their client’s interests.” Of solicitor applicants, he said “ …. I know some will be chosen, and there will be great interest in seeing who the first Irish solicitor in history to be made a senior counsel will be”.
Limited Liability for Irish Limited Liability Partnerships
Irish law firms are now able to use a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) corporate structure to avail of limited liability.
Under the provisions of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, Irish law firms can now reduce the financial liability of LLP partners. Although partners’ responsibility to the firm’s liabilities is limited, they could still be held liable for fraud, misconduct or criminality.
The modernising measure has been available to lawyer partnerships in many other jurisdictions and now rectifies a disadvantage Irish solicitors were under until now. Prior to this, Irish solicitors were unable to provide legal services to clients using structures other than as a sole practitioner or an unincorporated partnership.
For almost two decades, the Law Society has urged the Government to introduce limited liability partnerships (LLPs) as an option for partnerships of solicitors in Ireland.
Director-General Ken Murphy described it as a “significant advantage, long fought for. He stated that “we will continue to engage with Government and the new authority to ensure that this protection is extended to sole practitioners also”.
Mason Hayes and Curran became the first major law firm to operate as an LLP in May this year with many more following suit.