Legal Market Overview
Ireland’s economy continues to outperform others in the EU, with the European Commission predicting a 5.6% growth in Irish GDP in its Autumn 2019 Economic Forecast, and while there is still lingering uncertainty over the potential impact of Brexit, the Irish government’s most recent forecast is positive.
Ireland remains an attractive jurisdiction for foreign direct investment, and numerous overseas businesses, including nine out of the top ten global software, pharmaceutical and technology companies, have established operations in Ireland. The presence of multinationals in the country has generated a steady stream of corporate, tax and other work for law firms, and they have been increasingly busy advising on corporate migrations as more companies and financial institutions – including the asset management businesses of Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs – have announced or begun the transfer their European headquarters to Ireland in anticipation of Brexit.
Real estate also continues to drive a great deal of legal work in Ireland – construction is booming, particularly in Dublin, and firms have been highly active advising on property development and financing, with an emphasis on the development of social housing projects to alleviate the continuing homelessness crisis. However, incoming changes to the taxation regime for overseas investors using Irish real estate funds and real estate investment trusts are likely to have an impact on real estate lending. There has also been an increase in activity in the projects space following the launch of Project Ireland 2040, the government’s infrastructure plan to create balanced development across the country.
In other areas, insolvency work relating to the Celtic Tiger bubble is finally beginning to wind down and the focus is shifting to restructurings. Life sciences is a key sector for legal work as Ireland – and Cork and Galway in particular – has established a reputation as a global hub for pharmaceutical and medtech companies. Aviation is also a niche specialism for Irish firms – all but one of the world’s top ten global aircraft lessors are headquartered in Ireland, keeping firms busy advising on the finance and leasing of aircraft. Ireland’s low tax regime also means it continues to be a favourable jurisdiction for the formation of investment funds, and increasing numbers of investment companies are transferring their funds to Ireland before Brexit, resulting in a great deal of activity for firms in this area.
The legal market has seen further new entrants, with Fieldfisher and DLA Piper the latest international firms to establish a presence in Dublin (the former through a merger with local firm McDowell Purcell), although the largest full-service domestic firms – A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, Matheson, McCann FitzGerald, William Fry and Mason Hayes & Curran – still dominate the market. Other more recent arrivals, such as Pinsent Masons LLP, are continuing to build up their practices.