fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Eavan Saunders, Dentons

Interview with… Eavan Saunders, Dentons

With 10,500+ lawyers and professionals in 189 locations in 77 countries, Dentons is today the largest law firm in the world and has more people in more places than any of our competitors.

Dentons’ coverage matches with a significant number of our clients.  Where we do not yet have a required presence, we team with referral law firms through our Nextlaw Referral Network, an award-winning global legal network created by Dentons that connects us with other law firms and secures the best legal talent worldwide.  With 700+ member law firms in 200+ countries across multiple time zones, member law firms cover more countries in the world than any other global legal network.

Our global strategy has focused on greater geographical coverage. Through opening our own offices and by consolidating special alliances throughout the world, we have become more global in both geography and outlook. Our geographic coverage has greatly increased in recent years and we will continue to expand and enhance our capabilities so that we can provide businesses with multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary services, to efficiently support all their global legal requirements.

Uniquely in the legal services market, Dentons does not have a single headquarters or dominant culture. As a law firm we are inclusive of geographies, nationalities and languages, and recognise and encourage the unique talents and potential of our people.

Further, our global size and scale means that when we develop best practices and invest in new technologies in different countries and regions, we share them across geographies for the benefits of all our clients.

Strategy

Across the UK, Ireland and Middle East region (UKIME) we have approximately 1,500+ employees, across six UK offices, nine locations in the Middle East, and one office in Ireland, opened in Dublin in September 2020.

Over the past three years across UKIME we have successfully pursued a strategy of creating stronger ties with key clients, developing a strong value proposition and investing to grow market share. Taking each in turn:

  • creating stronger ties with key clients: the targeted and professional management of our biggest client accounts has resulted in new panel wins and appointments/re-appointments to a number of global/regional/country panels;
  • developing a strong value proposition: legal project management now forms an intrinsic part of our client service delivery offering and has proved pivotal to developing successful client relationships; and
  • growing market share: the Partners we have hired into our UKIME business over the past three years have yielded some major client wins and transaction successes.

We also share our clients commitment to inclusion and diversity. At Dentons we believe inclusion and diversity are key to the success and strength of our business. With a happy, integrated and representative workforce, we make our firm a rich and vibrant place that people want to work at, enjoy working at and where they can realise their full potential. We believe this environment translates into better relationships with our colleagues and better performance for our clients. Our commitment to inclusion and diversity is delivered through our involvement in a range of internal and external initiatives.

We also share our clients commitment to corporate social responsibility. We pride ourselves on an innovative corporate social responsibility programme that makes a positive impact on the communities in which we live and work. Our employees invest a significant amount of their time in to corporate social responsibility projects and pro bono, volunteering and fundraising efforts.

Technology & Innovation

Dentons is responsive to the needs, expectations and requirements of clients in the wider context of globalisation, technological advancement and widespread disruption in the legal industry. We invest in innovation and design technology solutions that benefit our clients and complement our legal services.

We are consistently recognised for being an innovative law firm and our commitment has been widely acknowledged by market recognition. For example, in a survey conducted by BTI Consulting Group, leading global clients ranked Dentons among the top three firms dubbed the “technology titans”, we were also recognised as being one of the 10 most innovative law firms in the world.

All our employees are encouraged to “own” innovation and we have structures in place to identify and implement innovative ways of delivering legal services to our clients.

We are certainly seeing an up take in instructions in financial services and in trade and commercial contracts that directly relate to clients managing their Brexit risks. As the only English speaking common law jurisdiction in the EU, Ireland is an obvious choice for many companies looking to ensure they keep a footprint in the EU. This has translated into workflow and we expect to see that continuing as our clients get a clearer picture of the post Brexit regulatory landscape in the United Kingdom.  </div>

A number of international firms have set up offices in Dublin over the last few years. What impact has this had on the Irish legal market?

It has created more competition for talent at every level but for the first time, we are seeing not insubstantial number of partners moving from firms where they have been for their whole careers to join the new international firms. This is a big change in what has traditionally been a static market for talent at partner level.

The full impact of the international firms has not fully been seen in the market given they are all relatively new to the market but clearly now there are a handful of credible international firms that can service their clients’ needs without the constraints of being limited to advising on Irish law, we expect to see significant leakage of cross jurisdictional work in particular over the coming years.

Does having an international presence offer an advantage in attracting clients from overseas, e.g. US-headquartered companies?

There is no doubt that having international offices is a tangible value add for our clients, Irish and International.

We are seeing our insolvency practice pick up premium mandates as a result of our international reach, as most Insolvency situations throw up legal issues in multiple jurisdictions whether on the creditor side, supply chain management, employment law and so on and being able to assist your Board in Ireland or the insolvency practitioner that may have stepped into the shoes of the board, on how to navigate these issues in real time without the time and interface risk of engaging multiple legal advisers, is of huge value.

Clearly, we are also finding Irish corporates of any scale outgrow the domestic market pretty quickly and they love that they can call us to manage multiple issues that land on their desk irrespective of where they occur. For example, we have a new large client who in the last week has had a need for employment advice in the Ukraine, searches in France, a regulatory dispute in the UK while we are also helping them on a significant refinancing here in Ireland.  This is what international reach delivers. A local relationship partner that takes ownership of finding you the right contact in each and every jurisdiction where legal issues arise, from big strategic issues to small operational queries, we can support them on that and it is painless for the client.

Have you implemented technological changes at your firm to assist with handling large transactions or large-scale litigation?

Dentons is “the law firm of the future now… with you, for you” and invests in and designs innovation solutions that benefit our clients and complement our legal services.

Our approach is to identify and utilise the most appropriate technologies that deliver the best results for our clients. On that basis, our Innovation team constantly monitors the legal technology environment and through our innovation framework, rigorously tests and pilots solutions before adoption. With the speed of development in this space, we acknowledge that individual products and platforms have different strengths and weaknesses and as a result know that there is no one size fits all approach to providing technology solutions.

Technology continues to be a key part of our offering to clients in handling large transactions and large-scale litigation. We have listed a number of examples below.

Luminance Discovery

When it comes to disclosure, Dentons brings together specialist expertise and cost effective tools and resources to deliver accomplished client service. For the more straightforward disclosure processes, we use an e-disclosure platform hosted by Luminance. The platform is managed in-house at Dentons by an experienced technical team.

We find that managing the process in-house results in a number of benefits for clients including more efficient parametrisation, better “training” of the AI leading to more rapid optimisation and of course the ability to swiftly reconfigure systems to respond to changes in the course of proceedings . This alone creates significant reduction in time and cost but also increases speed of response. For the more complex disclosure processes, we recommend the relativity disclosure platform and we have a small set of preferred external providers from which we are able to secure competitive rates. We do however; also have experience of the major e-discovery platforms.

Finally, litigation partners of the firm are also members of the judiciary. We have found this to be of significant benefit to ensure that we are able to learn from their experience regarding the latest interpretations and directives regarding e-discovery and disclosure and ensure that we are following best practice.

Dentons Direct

Dentons Direct is an interactive technology platform designed to deliver streamlined matter and client relationship management. Dentons Direct provides secure and transparent access to all the information needed for multiple matters, held in one place. The platform is accessible from PCs, tablets and smartphones across time zones and from all global locations.

Overall functions of Dentons Direct include the ability to carry out searches, set up notifications and send messages and the unique platform will be fully customised to meet client needs.

 

Key features

  • 24/7 access to their Dentons team
  • Project management – including workflow, task management
  • Multi-party access
  • Financial metrics and KPIs reporting
  • Document automation / management
  • News feeds
  • Knowledge management

Dentons Direct is differentiated in the legal market because its key features go beyond extranet basics. It is currently in use across Dentons globally and is supported by dedicated experts in our IT team.

Apperio

Apperio is a powerful smart-analytics dashboard which supports the building of strong client relationships by enabling real-time transparency on legal fees, organising client communications and streamlining matter management.

Linked to our financial system, Apperio assists in the scoping and budgeting of large and complex projects. Both the client and Dentons will be able to monitor progress on any instruction on a real-time basis to ensure that services are delivered in line with budgets. All completed matters and budgets are utilised proactively to identify trends, efficiencies and appropriate resources for future instructions as our relationship develops.

BundleDocs

BundleDocs is a program that allows for the automatic creation of court bundles while also allowing for the editing and manipulation of the bundles to create a high quality end product as quickly as possible. By performing many of the tasks that would normally be done manually by a lawyer, great time savings are created. Collaboration features on the site means that work on the bundle can be done almost entirely within the platform meaning that any changes can be made swiftly and accurately.

What sets your firm apart from others in Ireland?

Our firm is genuinely different. We have the biggest global reach of any firm in the world and when you put that scale and reach together with the really senior team of local partners, we have a very differentiated offering to any firm in the market. A number of our partner hires were heads of departments, on the boards and/or at the top of equity lock step in the Irish firms they came from and no other international firm has built out with senior market leading partners other than Dentons. We do not believe that global reach on its own is compelling for clients. We know from our expansion in other concentrated legal markets like Ireland, that the quality and standing of the local team is what really drives the success of the business and with the right founding team in place, they can then deliver the global firm to corporate Ireland. Our Irish team are an Elite cohort of first class lawyers that have 10,000 legal minds to leverage for their Irish based clients. We know now that there is demand for this offering and since we launched in September, we have new clients wins to prove it.

The real estate, technology and life sciences sectors have been booming in Ireland over the last few years. Do you expect these trends to continue and are there other sectors you think will provide opportunities for investors?

Financial services, Fintech, data and life sciences are all very active sectors and we expect that to continue. We also expect energy and infrastructure to be busy given the scale of government investment in the sector and the project pipeline in the programme for government.

What has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on business in Ireland and has this had an effect on the type of work you are seeing (e.g. cross-border work or investments in certain sectors)?

Deals slowed down for a period across all sectors but the real economy impact has yet to be fully felt. We know there has been a lot of forbearance from lenders and the government supports have been pretty successful at pushing the worst of the fall out down the road. It is however inevitable that we will see more business struggling to survive or return to the old normal in the second and third quarters of next year. This can bring legal work but a lot of deal flow has an element of GDP correlation, so 2021 will be a difficult year all round. We hope to be able to help our clients withstand the hardship that most have had to endure in Ireland with multiple and protracted lockdowns to manage. Our clients need us to be value focused and nimble after the hardship of COVID and as a new firm, we could not be better placed to pivot with them into the new normal that will emerge in 2021.

The Irish government has recently identified social housing and sustainable finance as some of its priorities for the future. How do you think law firms can assist with this and increase their activity in these areas?

The Irish government priorities do not necessarily drive where we think there will be profitable interesting mandates. We know a lot of investors are looking and finding social housing solutions and we have some live mandates in that space but that is one niche component of our tier one real estate practice which is also excited about PRS, Leisure, contentious construction and other sub sectors where we have a pipeline of interesting work in addition to social housing.

What do you think the impact will be of recent legislative initiatives by the EU Commission and the Irish government (such as the Investment Limited Partnership Bill and ESG regulation) on the investment funds industry in Ireland?

The new ILP Bill is very welcome and should certainly plug the gap in the closed end fund offering that we have had in Ireland for some time now. We have had a lot of clients following the legislation with considerable interest (with some getting jaded that it has not yet made its way onto the statute books). It is of particular interest to Dentons as none of the Irish firms have any real experience of establishing private equity or infrastructure funds and it is a very different skill set to the commoditised volume play of a UCITS practice. Having experience of setting up icavs and UCITS is of very limited value to the institutional players that want to set up PE funds where our experience of carry structures, side letter terms and limited partnership co investment terms etc. is much more on point.  We expect to be at the front of the queue when the industry looks to Ireland for legal support for this type of fund.

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