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Mason Hayes & Curran’s new managing partner: ‘I don’t see the robot lawyers taking over just yet’

As new managing partner of law firm Mason Hayes & Curran, Will Carmody hopes to continue its growth trajectory in Ireland while expanding in Britain and the US

“The view from here has changed so much since we moved here,” says Mason Hayes & Curran managing partner Will Carmody from the seventh floor of its main office block on Barrow Street. It overlooks the Grand Canal inner docks where a number of canal boats are moored, and has a bird’s-eye view of the nearby large construction site that was once the Treasury Building.

Carmody joined MHC in 2002, about a year after he qualified as a solicitor, having trained in a general law practice. “It was a very different firm then, based in Fitzwilliam Square, with 40 solicitors, maybe 70 staff in total and that’s gone to where we are now, with about 570 staff and just under 300 solicitors. That’s been a bit of a journey.”

Google is its landlord in the office where we are sitting but with the firm spread across three buildings and significant growth projected for the years ahead, MHC has appointed Savills to review its long-term property options and the possibility of bringing all its staff under the one roof. “We’re actively reviewing options but we’re not under any [time] pressure to make a decision,” he says.

The pandemic has changed the way we work, with hybrid arrangements in place at most professional services firms. Carmody says that before Covid, the firm would have envisaged seeking a space of 130,000-140,000 sq ft to facilitate its growth, versus 90,000 currently. “Now, we’re looking at something in between the two,” he says.


MHC is the only large law firm here to publish its annual income because it wants to be ‘open’ with staff and clients about the health of the business

It currently has 450 stations in its offices and gets about 70 per cent staff attendance “on a good day”, with the rest working from home or out in the field with clients.

Carmody became managing partner in January, succeeding Declan Black, who had served three terms and nine years in the role. He estimates that MHC is the fourth largest law firm in the Republic, passing the €100 million milestone in revenues last year, with growth of 8 per cent to €106 million. It is the only large law firm here to publish its annual income because it wants to be “open” with staff and clients about the health of the business.

“We don’t have to do it. It’s voluntary. But when you take that step, you sort of have to do it consistently. So we’ve published our turnover in years when it has gone up and years when it has gone down.”

The next logical step, of course, is to publish the profit figure. “When the other firms publish their turnover, we’ll publish our profit,” he says with a chuckle.

Income growth

In terms of turnover, Carmody told The Irish Times in January that the firm was budgeting for income growth of between 7 and 9 per cent this year. “I’d still be hopeful that we will achieve something like that. If you could predict these things accurately, you might be on a beach in the Caribbean. But we’re probably a touch up on where we were this time last year, which is reflective of where things are at generally [in the Irish economy]. It’s busy but we’re cautious in outlook because of everything else that is that is happening around us at the moment.”

On the morning of the interview, MHC informed staff of the appointment of 11 new partners, bringing the total to 117. Seven of them were women, as were 10 of the 15 appointed last year. “About 60 per cent. of the staff are female. and about 40 per cent of the partners. So quite good but still obviously not perfect,” Carmody says.

Is the aim to get to a 50-50 gender split for partners?

“The challenge for us, and it’s a challenge for every business, not just law firms, is to create sort of a structure or an environment where females can, not just at the early stages, when you’re getting promotion, but that you can stay in the business all the way through. The whole journey through career and family and all that period of time.”

MHC did previously have a female managing partner, Emer Gilvarry, while its current chairwoman is Christine O’Donovan, a partner in the firm’s international asset finance team. Carmody also notes that nine of the 19 heads of departments or practice groups are women, while two of the five recent appointees to its group management team were women.

“We’re trying our best to ensure that all structures of the firm are representative of the make-up of the firm,” he says.

The more senior you go into the business, the fewer females who are represented in that group, and that’s what we’re trying to address

—  Will Carmody

In terms of the gender pay gap, figures published last year show that MHC’s mean pay gap figures are 3 per cent (excluding equity partners) and 50 per cent (including equity partners). This highlights the number of men who own part of the business and are much better paid.

“The more senior you go into the business, the fewer females who are represented in that group, and that’s what we’re trying to address. So, as we make these promotions now, year on year on year, that profile will change,” Carmody says.

Portlaoise roots

Carmody hails from Portlaoise in Co Laois. His father, Dan Carmody, was a journalist with the Irish Press and later editor of the Leinster Express, while his mother inherited her family farm, where Will grew up with his sibling Joe, who is chief executive of communications agency Edelman Ireland.

He went to primary school locally and his secondary education was as a day pupil in the former Patrician College boarding school at Ballyfin Demense, now the location for a five-star hotel. He has been to the hotel once as a “special treat” for his 40th birthday. “It was very nice and had lots of pictures and memorabilia around from school days. Some of the old school magazines bring back memories. I had a nice time there.”

He later studied law at UCD and served as a trainee solicitor with Hughes & Liddy in Dublin from 1997 before joining MHC in 2002.

Why a career in law?

“You learn a lot about business from a small farming background and you get an interesting exposure to wider geopolitical things like commodities and topics like going into the EU and the impact on farming. It gets you tuned into business and economics and law. I had quite an interest in history, economics and politics, there’s a nice confluence of all that in doing law.

“It’s been an interesting career, because as the same time as you are learning to be a lawyer and developing all those skills, you are right at the centre of a big firm transition in that time. We’ve done most of our growth in the past 20 years.”

Having started off in financial services, Carmody switched into working on financing renewable energy projects as that stream of work expanded in importance. He also recalls how MHC set up one the first Facebook companies in Ireland – Facebook Ireland Inc. “The firm’s growth story and trajectory over the past 20 years nearly mirrors the Irish economic story.”

‘Steady hand’

MHC doubled in size under the leadership of Black, in spite of the challenges of the pandemic and Brexit. It’s a hard act to follow. What’s Carmody’s plan for his time in charge?

“It’s to keep a steady hand on the tiller and to make sure that we continue to progress. Society is continuing to be digitised... so there’s going to be further and further opportunities there. Things like artificial intelligence. That’s an area where regulation is coming. It’s not currently regulated.

“So there’s an AI European law coming, likely to be enacted towards the end of this year or early next year... everything to do with artificial intelligence, how it’s used, when it’s used and things like that. Not unlike the introduction of the dreaded GDPR and what that did for privacy and data for companies and how they had to interact with customers. You’ll see something similar for the way in which businesses use AI going forward.”

He would like to expand the firm’s presence overseas – it currently has small offices in London and San Francisco and a representative in New York.

“We’re not doing US law in the States, and we’re not doing English law in London. We’re not competing with local firms. So it is primarily international clients that are coming into Ireland. A little bit of Irish clients that are active in those markets as well.”

There’s quite a high degree of subjective analysis that goes on in legal advice in certain areas that AI probably won’t get to

—  Will Carmody

On the topic of AI, the emergence recently of ChatGPT offers potential in legal services to automate certain large-volume processes, such as in due diligence work, Carmody says. But he expects humans will still advise on the big ticket decisions.

“Where you’re giving legal advice that can have major impacts for businesses, either existential or [involving] big cost outcomes, businesses are always going to want to rely on a lawyer to give an interpretation. There’s quite a high degree of subjective analysis that goes on in legal advice in certain areas that AI probably won’t get to. But it will definitely be part of our businesses going forward, getting a first cut at something maybe our large volume processes that can be automated or made more efficient, and that’s only going to benefit clients, because you’ve got to bring efficiencies in time and cost.

“It’s in its very early stages at the moment. It’ll take a while, probably four years. I don’t see the robot lawyers taking over just yet but it will definitely be part of part of our world going forward.”

International firms

Another potential threat to the firm is posed by the entry into the Irish market in recent years of a clutch of international law firms, some of it the result of Brexit. Carmody estimates that since the alliance of Irish firm O’Donnell Sweeney with UK firm Eversheds in 2005, some 38 international firms have planted their flags here.

Carmody views it positively, saying their entry is good for clients and a reflection of the health of the Irish economy and investment here by multinational companies.

“There’s very few of them coming in going, we’re going to replicate what the large Irish law firms are doing and be a full-service law firm. A lot of them are coming in and going, we’re a technology-focused firm, we are a financial services-focused firm.

“We’re definitely not complacent, it keeps us on your toes, and makes us very observant. But you can’t be too distracted by what other people are doing either, you have to focus on your own business and try to execute as best you can.”


Name: Will Carmody

Job: Managing partner, Mason Hayes & Curran

Age: 47

Lives: Sandymount in Dublin

Family: Married to Orla Carmody with twin boys.

Hobbies: GAA, jogging and reading.

Something we might expect: He’s a member of the Law Society of Ireland.

Something that might surprise: He enjoys river fishing for trout on the Barrow and the Nore when he visits Laois. “That’s where I get a little bit of nice head space, I suppose.”

Leadership style: “I try to be facilitative, enabling and collaborative. When you have a high-performing, ambitious, driven group, which we pretty much have here in the office, your job as a leader is to create the environment where those people can best get the best out of themselves. So you need to be as a leader out front, clearing the path for people to enable them to just do their thing.”

Leaders he admires: “I think about people like Dennis Brosnan and what he did with Kerry Group, and people like Tony Ryan and Michael O’Leary and what they did with Ryanair. It’s fantastic to see success on a global scale coming from Ireland and Irish businesses.”

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock is Business Editor of The Irish Times