McCann Fitzgerald becomes an LLP as it elects new managing partner

Irish firm latest of Big Seven to change legal status; Stephen Holst set to take over next April from Barry Devereux

Incoming managing partner Stephen Holst Image courtesy of McCann Fitzgerald

McCann Fitzgerald has become the sixth of Ireland’s so-called ‘Big Seven’ law firms to become a limited liability partnership (LLP) as it also prepares for a leadership change having chosen a new managing partner to succeed current incumbent Barry Devereux. 

The Dublin-based firm changed its legal status from that of a law firm partnership on 1 November shortly before naming employment, pensions and incentives specialist Stephen Holst as the successor to Devereux at the end of his second term in the post next April.

McCann's conversion to an LLP comes exactly two years after the model was made available by the Law Society of Ireland (LSI) following an almost two-decade campaign to enable law firm partners to limit their liability.

Commenting on the decision, Devereux pointed to the protection it affords partners, who under the previous model were liable on an unlimited basis for the debts and liabilities of the partnership, to an extent not covered by their professional indemnity insurance.

“By adopting the status of an LLP, that exposure for partners will no longer apply other than in some exceptional cases,” he said.

The Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 provided for the introduction of LLPs in Ireland. As reported in the LSI’s Gazette, the ‘general principle of the legislation is that claims against an LLP will be met by the assets of the LLP and its professional indemnity insurance, but will not extend to the personal assets of the partners. However, inherent in that bargain is that the relevant PI insurance is obtained and maintained for the protection of those dealing with LLPs'.

Exceptions include any debt obligations or liabilities that occur because of fraud or dishonesty, tax liabilities or liabilities that arose before the firm became an LLP. A notable difference between Irish LLPs and their counterparts in the UK is that unlike in the UK where modified company law imposed on LLPs means that they are required to file accounts and annual returns, Irish LLPs are not required to report their financial results.

Almost 350 Irish law firms have adopted the LLP model, including five of the other big seven members – Arthur Cox, A&L Goodbody, Dillon Eustace, Mason Hayes & Curran and William Fry. Only Matheson, ranked by the LSI as Ireland’s largest law firm earlier this year with 327 practising solicitors, remains a law firm partnership.

McCann, meanwhile, is also preparing to usher in a new leader. Holst, who is a member of the firm's disputes groups, became a partner at McCann in 2017 having joined the firm a decade earlier as a trainee. He focuses his practice on the employment and industrial relations aspects of M&A, outsourcings, procurement and restructurings.

He said: “Through my career to-date, my experience is rooted in dealing with people and organisations – experience which I believe is hugely valuable for the responsibilities of this role and the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead."

He added that “the focus remains on our clients and our people, who are at the heart of our success. Despite the considerable changes occurring around us, our goal remains to build on our relationships and recognise that excellence and our culture underpins everything that we do”.

Catherine Deane, chair of McCann, described him as “an experienced strategic adviser who operates at the highest level in client organisations, guiding them on the people aspects of their significant corporate transactions, organisational change and most critical disputes”.

She also thanked Devereux for his “outstanding contribution” to the firm as managing partner over the past seven years, adding that he has “led the firm with great skill, foresight and expertise through a period of significant transformation in the Irish legal landscape, including navigating the firm through the immense challenges brought about by the pandemic".

Devereux joined McCann in 1998 after a decade at Clifford Chance, latterly as a partner in ithe UK firm's Singapore office, and focuses his practice on privatisations, M&A and corporate finance transactions. He served as head of McCann’s corporate and corporate finance groups prior to becoming managing partner in 2015. During his time at the helm he has overseen the firm's number of equity partners increase from 69 to 80 and the reopening of its New York office, which had shuttered in the late nineties due to waning demand. 

He said: “During the last seven years, our firm has grown considerably, adapting to the unprecedented changes in the legal landscape. I know Stephen will continue to position McCann strongly as an innovative and ambitious firm and I wish him the very best in this important role.”

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