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Legal market overview
Despite continued concern over Ireland’s fiscal health amid an uncertain Europe, pockets of the economy are thriving and the clearing-up and restructuring of distressed assets is generating unprecedented work for some law firms. The crisis has also led to realignments in the legal market, and those firms with the foresight to invest in areas such as litigation, corporate restructuring, insolvency, and professional indemnity have emerged in good shape despite the notoriously competitive market.
Of the leading bracket of firms, Arthur Cox most consistently attracts praise for client satisfaction; Matheson has undergone a rebranding and is on an upward trajectory, with its focus on foreign direct investment paying dividends; A&L Goodbody, McCann FitzGerald and William Fry also have top-tier practices in many areas; and Mason Hayes & Curran continues to close the gap on its Big Five rivals under Emer Gilvarry’s impressive leadership.
However, tighter legal services budgets are leading to more frequent and stringent tenders, even among the most loyal clients, while the influx of foreign firms has been another challenge: these newcomers have soaked up a sizeable portion of insurance and investment funds work, and are spreading into other areas of legal practice. Of these, Maples and Calder’s performance has been nothing short of stunning given the timing of its Dublin opening at the start of the crisis years. One client summarises: ‘I suspect they are shaking up the legal market generally and causing concern in some circles, as they appear to have broken the long-held monopoly on the top-tier quality work of the incumbent larger firms.’ Walkers and DAC Beachcroft Dublin also stand out for their successful penetration of the financial services and insurance markets, respectively.
Headline deals of 2012 included the restructuring of eircom, which reduced its gross debt from €4.1bn to €2.3bn; the ongoing saga of the Quinn Group demise; the $11.8bn acquisition of Cooper Industries by Eaton Corporation, which is Ireland’s largest M&A transaction to date; and the €7.2bn sale of RBS Aerospace to Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation. Looking ahead, Ireland’s commitment to selling €3bn in state assets under the Troika agreement will see law firms scrambling to secure roles. Key mandates will be the sell-off of parts of gas utility Bord Gáis and the creation of a new public utility – Irish Water – within the Bord Gáis group.