Litigation has always been a mainstay of Irish law firms. During the recession it loomed larger than usual as courts cleared up much of the mess left after the country’s banks and property market collapsed.
The courts regularly dealt with applications for receivers’ appointments, liquidations, judgments, repossessions, and bankruptcies. They also oversaw large numbers of examinerships, a corporate restructuring mechanism that gives companies protection from their creditors while they put in place rescue plans.
While this work has slowed, there are several inquiries stemming from that era under way in which lawyers play significant roles, advising witnesses or acting for and chairing the investigations themselves.
One is into Project Eagle, the sale of Northern Ireland-linked property loans by the Irish state’s ‘bad bank’, the National Asset Management Agency, to US private equity fund Cerberus for £1.3bn in 2014. Retired Irish High Court judge John Cooke is chairing the investigation, which is taking place in camera.
A second probe is scrutinising the sale by the Irish Banking Resolution Corporation (IBRC) – another state entity that took over two of the bubble era’s lenders – of building services company Siteserv for €45.5m to Millington. High Court Justice Brian Cregan is overseeing this inquiry, which is also in private.
Both involve claims of conflict of interest and that the state did not get the best value for money from either deal. While the proceedings are in camera, they are required to publish regular reports.
Solicitor Marian Shanley is chairing one that is proceeding in public, the Irish Central Bank’s (pictured) inquiry into collapsed lender Irish Nationwide, which IBRC absorbed along with Anglo Irish Bank. State guarantees left taxpayers to pick up a €4bn to €5bn tab for the institution’s failure.
Barry Devereux, managing partner of Dublin solicitors McCann FitzGerald, says that these inquiries are ‘significant consumers of legal services’. They involve procedures, witnesses and huge quantities of documents.
Witnesses generally seek legal advice and sometimes actual representation at the hearings. ‘Also, there are vast amounts of documents that are potentially relevant,’ Devereux says.
The Siteserv inquiry has to date received documents running to 500,000 pages. There has also been some controversy over legal fees. Justice Cregan is seeking a near doubling of fees for senior counsel working for the Siteserv inquiry – to €1,500 a day from €788.
Meanwhile, a preliminary report published by Justice Cooke into the Project Eagle inquiry shows that senior counsel representing witnesses at those proceedings will receive €788 a day.