A crown dependency, the Isle of Man has two unique calling cards other than its finance industry. The first is its world-famous TT motorcycle races. Running since 1907, competitors now whizz around closed public roads at speeds of up to 320 km/h. The other, perhaps secondary, clichéd image of Manx is the significantly more sedate horse trams which for decades have ferried tourists up and down the Douglas seafront. But which of these modes of transport most closely resemble the island’s legal market? Looking at ten years of historical data from The Legal 500’s Isle of Man rankings gives us a sense of the pace of the island, but first, a closer look at the jurisdiction itself.
Trusts and corporate matters are key areas of work in many traditional offshore jurisdictions, but these are not the key drivers of the Manx economy. Instead, government figures place gambling and insurance as its two core economic sectors, each contributing 17% of the island’s gross national income. Gambling returns to The Legal 500’s UK 2020 guide after being covered in the 2014 and 2015 guides as e-gaming. This area is key to the Manx economy as it permeates across many practice areas, especially considering how much regulatory work is done by in-house counsel.
When it comes to insurance work, life insurance crosses over with a niche area of international pensions, with Manx schemes (recognised as Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes) being popular for internationalised workforces and expatriates. These are combined in The Legal 500’s Insurance and pensions coverage. Notably, one area where the Isle of Man is distinct from the Channel Islands is that it does not set out its stall in the investment funds arena – the investment funds and capital markets practice areas have its constituent parts folded into their the Corporate and Banking sections respectively within our 2020 guide.
But what of the market? Ten years ago, Dickinson Cruickshank merged with global firm Appleby. Unlike the Channel Islands, Appleby is the only global name in offshore law present in the Manx market. Instead, its key competition is local independent firm Cains, now based in Fort Anne overlooking the island’s ferry port. Both firms have dominated the top tier rankings in the Corporate and Banking and finance rankings over the past decade.
Away from corporate and finance work, several other practice areas have had equally consistent top-tier firms. Formed in 1949, Simcocks celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2019 and is the only firm ranked in the top tier for private client work, with Phil Games regarded as the doyen of this area on the island.
DQ Advocates is another consistent performer, slotting in to the second tier just behind the others in many areas, and Annemarie Hughes a key name in the pensions arena.
In disputes, Cains and Appleby share the top tier with Gough Law, with name partner Alan Gough widely recognised as a leading lawyer in the field. An archetypal litigation boutique which is not ensnared into conflicts by panels and other historical relationships with major financial institutions, Gough Law is scheduled to close its doors at the end of 2019 when Gough himself retires.
Looking at the individual lawyer rankings, 11 of the 19 leading individuals ranked in 2009 maintained that standing over the last decade. Indeed, as far as firm longevity is concerned, all firms ranked for corporate and commercial work in 2009, albeit with some name changes, are again ranked in at least one section this year.
Considering the stability of the market it would be easy to conclude that the practice of law on the Isle of Man is more of a sedate tram journey rather than a white knuckle thrill ride. However, one law firm has not long emerged to challenge to the status quo on the island: Keystone Law. Although the platform law firm with partner-level consultants has its centre of gravity in England and Wales, it nonetheless made a splash when it entered the Manx market in 2017. That year the firm took four tier two rankings and gained a fifth the year after. With two leading individuals in the Corporate rankings, Geoff Kermeen and Stephen Rodd, and Ben Hughes ranked for Insurance and Pensions, the firm already has a critical mass. Needless to say, Keystone is breathing down the necks of more established firms after just two years in the market. If it continues its rate of growth the firm genuinely has a chance of breaking the Manx duopoly of Appleby and Cains.
Coupled with Gough Law’s imminent closure, perhaps the throttle on the Manx market is starting to twist.