Legal market overview
Ireland exited its three-year, €85bn EU-IMF bailout programme at the end of 2013. The country has undoubtedly strengthened its fiscal position – it has €20bn in the bank – but the mood within the legal community is one of cautious optimism rather than celebration.
The gradual economic recovery has been felt in legal practice. In 2012, the focus was on litigation, corporate restructuring, insolvency and professional indemnity. In 2013, the number of corporate insolvencies was down on the figures published for 2012, there were tentative signs of an upward trend in M&A activity, and the country continued to attract a significant flow of foreign direct investment. The government’s announcement of a programme of energy asset disposals has attracted considerable international interest, and the big players in the Irish legal market are expecting some significant transactions in the near future.
The Irish property market has also notably improved. In 2011, the total investment spend on Irish commercial property was €192m. In 2012, this rose to €600m, and the total spend in just the first six months of 2013 hit €610m. Following the government’s recent introduction of a legislative framework for real estate investment trusts, the first Irish REIT was launched in July 2013, and it is expected that more will be established to acquire property bargains before the next boom.
There was once a time when Ireland’s legal market was infamous for its slow, expensive and often uncommercial service, but those days are gone. Increased competition has made law firms hungry and ambitious, and client feedback is now awash with praise for business acumen, partner availability and value for money.
The legal landscape is dominated by the large, full-service firms – A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, Mason Hayes & Curran, Matheson, McCann FitzGerald and William Fry. Challenging their top-tier status are smaller but highly effective (and often international) firms which specialise in specific legal disciplines; standout examples are Dillon Eustace in investment funds, Walkers in capital markets, and Maples and Calder in an increasing number of its core practice areas, including corporate and commercial.