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Northern Ireland’s legal, socio-political and economic landscape continues to be dominated by the political upheavals of 2016 and 2017. Brexit continues to pose challenging questions for the country, particularly regarding the future of cross-border travel and trade since they are the only UK country with a land border with the EU. Following the initial collapse of the power-sharing government in early 2017, hopes for the formation of a new government are so far unrealised after power-sharing discussions collapsed in February 2018.

In spite of the ongoing political uncertainty, law firms remain optimistic and report continued growth in transactional activity, especially foreign investment into the tech and manufacturing sectors and domestic transactional activity in the agri-food sector. The real estate sector continues to thrive in Northern Ireland, with construction projects for student accommodation, office space and hotels in central Belfast forming key areas of instruction for a number of law firms.

Whilst wind farms and solar panels remain stable in the energy sector, anaerobic digestion is a growing trend, with continuing construction of waste-to-energy plants in Northern Ireland. The £250m gas transmission pipeline project, Gas to the West, is under construction, and a new £200m electricity north-south inter-connector project between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was granted planning permission in early 2018.

The legal market remains highly competitive, with key players including indigenous full-service firms Carson McDowell, Cleaver Fulton Rankin and Tughans; newly merged firms such as DWF and Keystone Law; Dublin-headquartered firms Arthur Cox Belfast and A&L Goodbody, both of which have strong presences in the Belfast legal market; and UK-wide firms such as Pinsent Masons Belfast LLP, Kennedys and TLT. A number of London-headquartered firms such as Allen & Overy LLP, Baker McKenzie and Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, also have offices in Belfast as a hub for legal and business service centres.

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