One of the first emails that Ann Lalor had to send following her appointment as head of Pinsent Masons in Ireland was to cancel its Christmas party. It was November 2021, and the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was tearing through the country. Understandably, the international law firm was cautious.

A year has passed and sitting in the tasteful boardroom of its Dublin office, it feels like Lalor is recalling a different world. The lobby of Pinsent Masons’ office in the Windmill Quarter in the south docks in Dublin is buzzing with people.

Outside a group of tourists has stopped to view a vinyl walkway of famous albums from the likes of Kate Bush and U2 that marks the site of the former home of the Windmill Lane music studio which has been redeveloped as offices, cafes and a high-end gym.

Later this month Pinsent Masons will celebrate its five-year anniversary in Ireland in its office. There will be drinks and canapes for its growing roster of clients and its expanding team.

Lalor can laugh about cancelling the party now, but it wasn’t the easiest start. “The first town hall with our team was done on a screen rather than in person,” she said. “I am a believer in the office. It has a role in building a sense of community and connectivity across teams.”

Pinsent Masons tries to have all of its team in the same two days every week; otherwise, it offers flexibility. “Ideally, we want people to come in around three days a week, but it flexes. It is up to every team lead,” Lalor said, adding that the office was particularly important when training graduates.

“When you train people remotely, they don’t get naturally dragged onto calls or into meetings,” she said. “Being in the office and meeting clients is vital for people especially when learning skills like business development.”

Despite remote working, Lalor said that Pinsent Masons had doubled the size of its team to 70 people during the pandemic. The firm now has 13 partners in Dublin, with its most recent Deirdre Lynch, an employment specialist, joining from Byrne Wallace at the end of October. Corporate lawyers Neil Keenan and Gerry Beausang, also of Byrne Wallace, started in Pinsent Masons at the start of this year.

The expansion is not over, however.

“In the next year we will be looking at hiring 15 to 20 ideally,” Lalor said. “The market is extremely competitive right now, but our teams are looking for good people, so we hope to achieve it.”

Lalor took over as head of Ireland from Gayle Bowen, who stepped down after three years to focus on leading its Irish investment funds practice.

Pinsent Masons has a central board to which each of its 26 heads of office around the world reports. “You carry out the decisions of the board, but you also make decisions locally,” she said. “There are regular interactions with the global managing partner or senior partners as the case may be.” 

Lalor said Pinsent Masons typically builds greenfield teams rather than buying into new markets. “I don’t think it would make strategic sense for us to acquire another firm,” she said.

Lalor said she felt the pressure of new entrants in the Irish law market was more likely to hit mid-sized Irish firms who found it harder to compete against larger firms.

“I do think there is a squeeze among mid-tier firms who are going to struggle more to attract and retain clients,” she said.

“In terms of expertise, it will be harder for them to compete against a firm like us with very broad and deep multijurisdictional expertise.”

She said this was a key reason why Irish mid-sized firms were merging or aligning with international players. “I think it will be hard for those firms to remain independent,” she said.

A changing market

KPMG recently appointed John Given, a former partner in A&L Goodbody and Philip Lee, to lead its legal services division. EY has also set up its own legal services arm led by Alan Murphy. I ask if Pinsent Masons is worried about accountancy firms encroaching into law. “To be frank I don’t see it as a direct crossover with what established full-practice law firms do,” Lalor replies.

“They will provide certain services to their existing clients as I understand it, but they are not going to start doing restructuring work or giving general banking advice and so on. I think it is a different type of service and I don’t see it as a direct competitor.”

Lalor said she could see accountancy firms offering legal services in areas like company secretarial services or aspects of tax but not taking on harder legal tasks. “It is more a further embedding of services with their existing clients,” she said.

The big Irish law firms are the real competition for Pinsent Masons. What can it offer that Irish firms can’t? “It is always hard to prise clients away from established firms,” Lalor said. “But our offering is different. We have a single balance sheet multijurisdictional offering that is very appealing to clients.

“We also have a different way of thinking. We have areas we deeply specialise in like financial services, energy, infrastructure, real estate, technology, science, and industry so while we might be relatively new to the Irish market, we have a big network. There may be something that is new to the top four or five Irish firms, but it more than likely is not new to us as we will have done it somewhere. So that is a way we can really add value.”

Lalor added: “We can also provide a seamless service. When it is a cross-border transaction we have lawyers across multiple jurisdictions to close out any transaction. I think it really sets us apart.”

According to Lalor, clients also like the fact that Pinsent Masons’ offices worked together across all jurisdictions. “It is a one balance sheet firm,” she said. “There are huge advantages to that. If a client comes to us, it is not the Dublin office trying to hold onto work. We want to make sure the right person is deployed with the right experience to give you the best service.”

In the aftermath of Britain’s vote for Brexit in 2016, a raft of British law firms announced plans to set up in Ireland. Some of them have barely any presence, while others now have significant teams here. “I think there is a split between law firms who have come into this jurisdiction,” Lalor acknowledges. “There are real players who are setting up full-service firms and I would put ourselves, Dentons, DLA Piper, and Simmons & Simmons as among them. There is a big difference between us and firms that only have a small foothold here.”

Areas of growth

“In banking, which is my area, I would say the market is tightening a little bit, in particular in the core banks.”

Pinsent Masons, she said, saw Ireland as an important market. “We are not brass plate. We have a full and growing team,” she said, adding that Pinsent Masons was actively hiring.

“We are an ambitious group,” she said. “The next area we would like to have in Dublin is tax. We have a global tax [team] which is very strong and has advised on a number of Irish deals already but we would love to have a tax partner in Dublin as well. There are other areas too. We are very ambitious to grow… but I don’t want to give all our strategy away.”

However, Lalor said restructuring was another legal area she expected to grow. “We are into potentially challenging times,” she said.

I ask if she is concerned about FDI by tech companies being scaled back in Ireland. “It is a concern, of course, it is a concern,” she said, adding that the impact of multinational tech firms cutting back would have a knock-on impact on Irish SMEs dependent on them for work.

International private equity (PE) is becoming more active in Ireland in recent years, and Pinsent Masons has advised on some of the biggest transactions in this space. It notably advised Texas-based Cathexis on the acquisition of 1890-founded Jones Engineering earlier this year. “We have definitely benefited from our relationships with PE,” Lalor said. “This does give us an opportunity to get in front of potential new clients but there is no guarantee that an Irish client will migrate to us.”


Pinsent Masons’ corporate team has closed over 120 deals in five years. As a firm, Lalor said that deals often involved cooperation between partners with different specialties. Pinsent Masons acted for the Central Group and Signa Holding for example on the recent purchase of Selfridges, which is best known in Ireland for owning Brown Thomas and Arnotts.

“It was a great deal in terms of cross-work between different teams,” Lalor said. “There were Irish landmark department stores being sold (as part of the transaction) so it was great to be involved in it.”

In Dublin, Pinsent Masons’ corporate, banking, and real estate team all worked on different aspects of the £4 billion deal which involved eight different jurisdictions.

“Another good deal my team worked on was that we acted for DCC on a new £800 million sustainability-linked revolving credit facility with its banks,” Lalor said.

Another deal she cited involving its funds team was advising Baillie Gifford Investment Management (Europe) Limited on its successful licensing application with the Central Bank. “Our litigation team has done some ground working litigation in the Irish courts,” she added. “We act for an extremely large generic pharma company called Teva and they have had some very significant litigation.”

Economic outlook

What is the outlook for the next 12 months given all the macroeconomic headwinds? “The corporate team says their pipeline remains very buoyant in terms of M&A and private equity transactions,” Lalor said.

Lalor also expects more energy deals because of the crisis, as well as seeing more consolidation in certain sectors like healthcare, veterinary and dentistry. “It won’t be all doom and gloom,” she said. “We will see healthy M&A but there is also a level of uncertainty so it is hard to see exactly what the pipeline is like.

“In banking, which is my area, I would say the market is tightening a little bit, in particular in the core banks.”

Pinsent Mason acts for the full range of clients from banks to alternative lenders, funds, and corporate borrowers. What about Pinsent Masons’ restructuring business? “I think for a long time the economy has been waiting for corporate restructuring to start,” Lalor said. “It hasn’t happened yet because of Covid support and so on but they are at an end now.

“Companies and SMEs are just back up and running again and they’re facing new issues – the most obvious of which is the energy crisis. One has to expect there are going to be huge challenges for many businesses and we are expecting more restructuring work.”    

Lalor said that Pinsent Masons internationally works with some of the biggest firms in the world. However, she said that it also wanted to work with Irish SMEs also. “There is no cut-off in terms of size,” she said. “If we believe we can provide a client with a good service and bring something to them then we want to work with them.”

Pinsent Masons, according to Lalor, has internal tech expertise that gives it an edge. It employs centrally 35 engineers, coders, and project managers to design tech solutions for its clients. “We have used this in this office advising financial services companies and funds when they need to carry out large due diligence,” she said.

“We can provide a really cost-effective due diligence platform that can be very bespoke. Our tech team will interact with the client and work with our on-the-ground lawyer to provide the best solution. Innovation isn’t an option in Pinsent Masons. It is a necessity in terms of client service.

Ann Lalor’s parents, Jim and Elizabeth, both worked in the Bank of Ireland, so she grew up surrounded by conversations about lending and banking. Lalor was born in Monaghan where her father was a bank manager, but his job required her family to move around so she also spent spells in Meath and in Cavan. “It definitely builds up your resilience moving from school to school,” she said.

She studied English and Philosophy at the University of Galway. “I was very interested in language and how it is used so that got me thinking about law,” she said.

She did a postgraduate degree in law, and from the start was interested in business law. “I understood it and got it,” Lalor said. “I didn’t go into it thinking about corporate law and finance, but it came naturally. I had picked up so much naturally just growing up in a family of bankers.”

Her first job was in McCann FitzGerald where she stayed for five years, before working for six years with Daniel Spring & Co. This was followed by a five-year stint with Eugene F Collins and then Whitney Moore. The experience exposed her to the full range of practice sizes before she joined Pinsent Masons as a partner in February 2019.

Lalor is a female leader, and she said diversity and inclusion were important to her firm. “These things take time and are gradual but I do think that having women in strong leadership roles will make it a matter of course for more women to come through,” she said.

In 2017 Pinsent Masons acquired Brook Graham, a diversity and inclusion consultancy. She said this expertise was both a service Pinsent Masons offered to its clients, but also applied to itself in its practice culture.

“Diversity and inclusion is really important to us as a firm,” she said.

The majority of solicitors in Ireland are female, but at a senior level there are still more men. What can be done about that? “Getting women to leadership in law firms continues to be a challenge,” Lalor said. “This firm has had a programme in place since 2014 called Project Sky to address this. We are actively working to encourage transparency in areas like career development, flexibility, parental leave, and addressing things like unconscious bias.

“The reality is whether due to structural, mindsets or lifestyle reasons women at a certain point can fall away. This firm wants to support and retain really strong talent. Supporting women in leadership positions is part of that.”