Extending the long arm of the law
The managing partner of law firm Holmes O’Malley Sexton is developing a niche base in Dublin, away from its Limerick roots, writes CAROLINE MADDEN
ON THE day we meet, Harry Fehily is just back from his first ever trip to New York. Apart from the standard Big Apple experiences – staying in the Irish enclave that is Fitzpatrick’s Hotel, eating in the famous River Café in Brooklyn – the managing partner of Limerick law firm Holmes O’Malley Sexton (Homs) also brushed shoulders with a favourite lecturer from his student days – none other than the “very colourful, very erudite” President Michael D Higgins.
At an Ireland Funds dinner gala in the Lincoln Center, Fehily reminded the President that he campaigned for him during the 1983 European elections, to which Michael D quipped that it wasn’t his most successful campaign – he didn’t get elected. Enjoyable as the campaign was, it proved to be Fehily’s first and last brush with politics. These days he pours all his ambitions into developing Homs, using a strategy that hinges on becoming a bigger fish in a bigger pond – with the pond in question being the Dublin market.
Sitting in the firm’s Georgian offices on Hume Street, if Fehily is tired from a hectic New York trip, a transatlantic flight and a drive to Dublin, he doesn’t show it. And indeed he has good reason to be energised – while away he received a phone call from a colleague to tell him Homs had scooped the Munster Provincial Law Firm of the Year award at the inaugural Irish Law Awards in the Shelbourne Hotel.
But while the firm (which employs 85 people, 35 of whom are solicitors) may be riding a crest at the moment, he is acutely aware of the challenges that persist.
In front of him on the desk is a clipping from the New York Times – a full-page article examining the collapse of the venerable New York city law firm Dewey Leboeuf, which the piece compared to the fall of Arthur Andersen and Lehman Brothers.
Fehily believes the fault lay with Dewey’s partners for not changing with the times and become more businesslike. By this he means they should have focused on their clients rather than relying on their reputation and assuming work would always come to their door. “You have to focus first and foremost on the clients as opposed to on your colleagues,” he says. “I think some traditional firms are probably more collegiate than our firm would be.”
While it may have a modern outlook, Homs has a distinguished past too. It was formed in 1972 with the merger of three Limerick partnerships – those of Gordon Holmes, Michael O’Malley and Jim Sexton.
Holmes, who was the lead partner in Homs until 11 years ago, was an old-school gentleman, a hugely respected figure on the law scene and a “very brilliant” man. At the age of 26 he played bridge for Ireland against Omar Sharif, but gave up the glamour of international cards at 28 and went on to become Ireland’s first State Solicitor, chairman of the Parole Board and of the Garda Siochána Complaints Board, among other positions. “The list is endless,” Fehily says.