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Legal market overview

US-related business has been playing a significant role in the development of the Irish economy, including by way of investment in real estate and job creation through tax-resident corporations such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

For law firms, the flow of work has manifested in significant quantities of real estate-related banking and transactional work assisting US private equity firms and developers, including Lone Star Capital and Kennedy Wilson, with the purchase of distressed debt and direct property deals. As such, construction and planning lawyers are readying themselves for a revival of development opportunities, both in the commercial space and residential property sector, particularly in the Dublin region.

Corporate lawyers have also benefited, with M&A activity reaching a seven-year high in 2015, largely dictated by the size of deals generated by the tax-resident US multinationals. This continued into 2016, with Johnson Controls completing its $16.5bn takeover of Tyco International in a deal that involves shifting the combined company’s corporate domicile to Ireland.

Although the potential impact of the Trump presidency in the US is an area of uncertainty for US/Irish deals going forward, the most pressing concerns currently lie with recent rulings by the European Commission (EC). The EC recently ruled that Ireland breached EU state aid rules by granting undue tax benefits of up to €13bn to Apple Inc, which has potentially huge repercussions. Prior to that, in October 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) handed out a ruling striking down the ‘safe harbour’ arrangements under which commercial parties transferred data from Europe to the US. The judgment is potentially transformational in terms of its impact on the data management practices of large-scale IT and social media companies.

The UK’s decision to exit the European Union – accompanied by a drop in the pound and forecasted reduction in economic growth – is generally perceived as a negative, on the basis that Ireland will suffer if its major trading partner is diminished. However, there is also opportunity to be had and employment lawyers are starting to handle a volume of queries relating to the relocation to Ireland of UK businesses that want to remain part of the EU.

The Irish legal system continues to enjoy positive development: recent changes include the streamlining of the court system – including the creation of a new Court of Appeal – and the introduction of a new Companies Act, advising on matters such as the new forms of private limited company, namely LTD and DAC (designated activity company).

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