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A&L Goodbody’s well-respected corporate group had a particularly busy year advising clients on their inward investments into Northern Ireland, as well as acting for national and international private equity funds on their acquisitions and investments, particularly in the technology, manufacturing and renewables sectors. Key private equity clients include Carlyle Cardinal Ireland (a private investment fund sponsored by The Carlyle Group and Cardinal Capital Group), which the firm advised on its investment in Learning Pool Limited, a Northern Ireland-based e-learning company; practice head Alastair Keith led the team on that matter. In another fund-related highlight, Peter Stafford led the team advising Business Growth Fund, a UK fund investing in SMEs and backed by Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, RBS and Standard Chartered, on its £10m investment into RiverRidge Recycling. In a deal showcasing its track record in high-stakes M&A, the firm acted for Huhtamaki, a Finnish manufacturing company, on its £80m acquisition of Delta Print & Packaging, which was one of the largest M&A deals in Northern Ireland in 2016. Mark Thompson is well known for his expertise in energy-related corporate transactions.

An excellent firm in the region’, Arthur Cox Belfast attracts praise for its ‘extremely knowledgeable corporate team’ and for its ability to provide ‘a personal and dedicated service’ to international and local clients including corporates from China, France and the Republic of Ireland. In an illustration of its reputation in the agri-food sector, the firm advised Northern Ireland-based food producer, Dunbia, on the high-profile £18m sale of its pork processing business to UK-based food producer, Cranswick. Other active sectors include tech, retail and energy; retail-sector highlights included advising on the Northern Ireland aspects of Home Retail Group’s sale of Homebase to Wesfarmers. The practice is headed by Alan Taylor, who was recently appointed chairman of the firm. The ‘very responsive and commercially orientatedLynsey Mallon is another key partner in the group. Paul McBride was a new arrival in 2017 from Pinsent Masons Belfast LLP.

Clients rate the corporate team at Carson McDowell for its ‘outstanding service’ and for its ‘skilful combination of gravitas, excellent knowledge and business acumen, and value for money’. The group, whose expertise spans a broad range of sectors including technology, energy and agri-food, has been particularly active advising on private equity-related investments into the country; Gerard Armstrong led the advice to River Ridge Holdings on a £10m investment by the Business Growth Fund. In another standout deal, the firm assisted Chain Reaction Cycles with its merger with Wiggle, which involved significant competition issues. Diary producer Fane Valley and News Corp UK & Ireland are also clients. The team is jointly headed by Neasa Quigley, who is noted for her ‘very strong knowledge, flexibility and availability’ and for her track record in energy transactions; and Richard Gray, who is ‘authoritative, patient and not fazed by complexity’.

The corporate team at Tughans garners praise for its ‘industry knowledge, practicality and depth of capability’. 2016 has seen the firm continue to act on large-scale transactions and investments across the technology, manufacturing, energy and real estate sectors. In a key highlight for the year, John McGuckian led advice to the shareholders of Delta Print & Packaging on its £80m sale to Finnish company, Huhtamaki. In an illustration of its energy-sector credentials the team acted for Chinese company, CGN, on its acquisition of 14 windfarms in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland from Gaelectric. John-George Willis heads the practice and has a longstanding reputation for his corporate expertise. Other key names include investment fund expert Ciara Lagan, who acted for LondonMetric Property, a FTSE 250 REIT, on the sale of its Northern Ireland subsidiary for more than £30m. The firm also has a market-leading presence in the private equity sector, where it acts for clients including Kernel Capital and Pentech Ventures.

Cleaver Fulton Rankin’s wide-ranging sector expertise covers technology, real estate and pharmaceuticals, with agri-food and energy burgeoning areas for the corporate team, which has been successful in riding the wave of inward investment that continues to be a defining feature of the Northern Ireland market. Highlights included advising Arkios Cordovan on the formation of a Northern Ireland investment firm and assisting Northern Pharmacies with its multimillion-pound acquisition of Sweeney’s Pharmacies. Hilary Griffith joined in January 2017 from Pinsent Masons Belfast LLP; he jointly heads the practice with Scott Kennedy, who is praised for being ‘commercial and practical in his approach and for getting the job done efficiently and effectively’.

Millar McCall Wylie LLP’s corporate team attracts praise for being ‘highly efficient and great to deal with; its lawyers provide high-quality advice and are transparent in their approach’. The team has been particularly active in technology sector investments; highlights included representing e-learning company, Learning Pool, on Carlyle Cardinal Ireland’s investment into the company. The group also advised Northern Ireland-based medical devices and imaging software company, Cirdan Imaging, on investments by Kernel Capital Growth Fund and Kainos Software worth £3.5m. Damien McParland heads the team, which includes Abbie Long, who is singled out for her transactional energy experience.

Mills Selig’s sector coverage spans finance, insurance, real estate and renewables and its corporate team advises on a range of investments, acquisitions and mergers. Kathryn Walls is particularly well known for her expertise in IT transactions; recent highlights include advising Northern Ireland-based IT service management company First Derivatives on six acquisitions with an aggregate value of £28m; the target companies were based in Canada, the US, Ireland and the UK and involved substantial IT and IP assets. Walls also advised the same client on its £15m dual placement on AIM and on the Enterprise Securities Marker of the Irish Stock Exchange. In another key mandate, practice head Chris Guy led the advice to Hughes Insurance on the sale of its business and assets to Liberty Insurance. Other clients include Retlan Manufacturing and Natural World Products.

Pinsent Masons Belfast LLP’s corporate team is well known for its transactional energy expertise. Richard Murphy is a key name for energy deals and led the team advising TCI Renewables on the sale of the Brockaghboy Windfarm to ERG Renew, which involved devising bespoke grid interface documentation to connect the development, which collectively generates 68MW-worth of power, to the Northern Ireland transmission system. Murphy also led the team acting as Northern Ireland counsel for Viridian Group on its £1bn acquisition by I Squared Capital; the high-profile nature of the transaction was compounded by Viridian’s role as a key stakeholder in the all-Ireland energy market. Healthcare and agri-food are also areas of expertise for the firm, which acts for clients including Oasis Healthcare and Portman Healthcare. Agri-food highlights included acting for Lakeland Dairies on its acquisition of Fane Valley’s dairy business. Hilary Griffith left the firm in January 2017 to join Cleaver Fulton Rankin.

Since its inception in 2013, Davidson McDonnell Solicitors has established a strong reputation for handling mergers and acquisitions in Northern Ireland and across the UK for investor clients, with particular strength in the real estate and technology sectors, In a standout transaction the practice acted for Northern Ireland-based investment and development firm, Wirefox, on its acquisition of a portfolio of properties in Scotland valued at £30m. The firm acted for Belfast-based venture capital fund, Crescent Capital on its investment into Flowlens. Other clients include Whiterock Capital Partners and IT solutions provider, Xperience. Consultant Vicky Dummigan leads the team, which includes founding partners, Ross Davidson and David McDonnell, who are well versed in property transactions.

Elliott Duffy Garrett’s corporate team is praised for ‘providing straightforward and decisive advice’ and for its ‘efficiency, even when dealing with the most complex of transactions’. Agri-food has been a key area of activity for the firm in 2016; highlights included advising an agri-food sector client on a significant joint venture, and substantial investment, which involved negotiating investment and shareholder agreements, as well as share transfer and asset transfer agreements. The logistics and technology have also been active areas for the practice, which acted for the buyer on its acquisition of a terminal operator business. The ‘practical and pragmatic’ Kevin McVeigh leads the team, which includes associate Cathy Murphy.

Johnsons Solicitors had an active year in the technology area; in 2017 the group advised Arc-net on a £2m investment into the company by Dr Richard Steeves, founder of Synergy Health. Rhys Jones heads the practice and is noted for his retail-sector expertise.

Keystone Law made its entrance into the Northern Ireland market in 2017 through its merger with commercial law boutique McMahon McKay. The ‘very capable, commercial and responsive’ firm has garnered a solid reputation for its track record on M&A and investments into Northern Ireland. In a standout matter the group advised a majority shareholder of Delta Print & Packaging on the £80m sale of the company to Huhtamaki. The firm has been particularly busy acting on buy-side mandates for international and UK-based investment firms such as Rhino Investment Management, Straban Limited and Eirron Limited. On the sell side practice head, John McMahon led the advice to Belfast Distillery Company on the sale of the business to a US investment firm; McMahon is praised for combining ‘a pragmatic approach without compromising the best interests of his clients’. Danny McKay is another key name.

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