A Q&A Conversation With Niamh Doyle and Aoife Sheehy
For several years, Partners Aoife Sheehy and Niamh Doyle have offered a joined-up property and construction practice that serves a broad range of clients on their needs both in Dublin and throughout Ireland.
While Sheehy specializes in construction law and social housing investments, Doyle brings more than 20 years of experience in property law as they support several of Ireland’s biggest property investors.
Sheehy and Doyle recently discussed their practice, how they wound up pursuing real estate law, and trends in the Irish real estate market in 2023.
To get started, how did each of you decide to pursue a career in law and then more specifically, real estate law?
Sheehy: I was always interested in criminal law from pop culture, and then I did a master’s in criminal justice. I gained work experience in a legal office where my mentor was a great property solicitor and I always admired her. Her confidence with clients, the dedication she had to her job, and the trust clients had in her, were inspiring, so I wanted to imitate her as best I could in bringing similar qualities to my own career and clients.
Doyle: I’ve always had a very strong conscience and cognisant of people’s actions, words, and consequential behavior. From a very early age, I was very adversarial and some may say outspoken. In school, I really enjoyed debating and knew I would like to eventually work in an environment where I was either going to represent or defend people. I trained in a general practice and thoroughly enjoyed court work but I found myself leaning towards property transactions as I enjoyed more the process of desk study and one on one engagement with numerous clients on complex transactions.
Sheehy: The aspect of my area of law that I enjoy is the comprehensive process I bring to helping clients fulfill their objectives efficiently. Some other areas of law, such as long-term litigation or court battles, can go on for many years. I like running multiple transactions, opening and closing files, and getting a result every time. I like the closure you get from these transactions.
Doyle: In real estate, there is a very broad range of law, much of which is very technical. Each transaction brings with it its own range of issues. Some transactions require a lot of interaction and negotiation with the legal team on the other side, so good interpersonal skills are critical. I like working on varied projects, the quick turnaround of some files, and the complexity of large transactions.
How would you describe your practice today?
Sheehy: For the most part, I work with institutional investors who buy properties and then release them to the government for social housing. That creates a slow-burning, long-term investment of 25 years or more. These could be individual or block purchases. I also help clients with high-value properties and with commercial transactions.
Doyle: I work in the commercial property space. My work is quite varied and includes acting for developers on site acquisition and disposal of completed units, and acquiring or disposing of industrial or retail units and fuel depots. I also advise on commercial leases.
Let’s turn to your property and construction practice, how did that initially develop?
Doyle: We both started off primarily working and gaining experience in the residential area but over time we developed our practice, primarily from existing corporate clients to advising on all commercial property-related transactions. We have considerable experience in the industrial sector in transactions known as sale and leaseback.
Can you provide an example of a sale and leaseback transaction?
Doyle: We’re currently working on a transaction with the biggest logistics company in Ireland. We acted on the initial acquisition of the sites, the construction of the industrial units on those sites, finance, and the lease of those completed units to connected parties. For the same client, on a different transaction, it was the same process up until the construction of the units but thereafter the units were sold to a third party with the vendor taking a long leaseback on the units on commercial terms agreed during the sale process.
We complement each other’s particular skills. Aoife dealt with all of the construction work which is critical to the transaction, whilst I focused on the property acquisition/disposal and negotiation of the lease.
How have you been able to grow this niche practice of leaseback transactions?
Doyle: This kind of work is very complex so relative experience is essential and of course referrals from satisfied clients.
You also find in these bigger transactions that you work with the same firms on the other side of the transactions, and you tend to work with nearly the same people whom you have already built up a good rapport with. This is a plus for both sets of clients, so clients love to hear that you have familiarity with the legal team on the other side.
Now that we’re a couple of months into 2023, what trends are you seeing in the Ireland real estate market?
Sheehy: We know one of the areas that are that is growing in property is logistics, but nursing homes and care centers are also growing.
On the residential side, there’s a housing crisis in Ireland where we don’t have enough supply to meet the demand for social housing or homeless accommodations, but we’re also falling short for young professionals and young families. This creates a challenge for employers hoping to attract international staff.
How do those market factors affect the work you do?
Sheehy: Market factors will dictate the files that land on your desk. Social housing is a massive area and can be a constant source of work if the procedures and systems are in place by the local authorities to push transactions through. Uncertainty about interest rates, inflation, and other factors can be a deterrent for investors.
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