Posted on Tuesday 23 February 2016 by Ulster Business
Mark Thompson, Peter Stafford and Alastair Keith
A&L Goodbody has topped the Experian Corpfin M&A league tables for the past four consecutive years – a trend that looks set to continue in 2016, according to partner Mark Thompson.
“Early indications for this year are positive and we have entered 2016 with a very strong pipeline of local and international deal activity,” he said.
Managing partner Peter Stafford says that the firm has been struck by the variety of deals in Northern Ireland – both in terms of value and sector – in the past 12-to-18 months.
“Whilst we recorded significant transactions that we would typically expect in the healthcare, food/agri and energy & renewables sectors, it was also encouraging to note increased activity emerging in other sectors such as hospitality and commercial property,” he said.
“The mid-market sector was notably more active in 2015 and we continued to see a return of domestic buyers, funded by a mix of private equity, traditional bank debt and alternative capital providers.
“The steady economic recovery here has created a far more attractive investment environment than we have seen in recent years,” he continued. “In 2015 we continued to see increased confidence among both local and international investors seeking to invest in Northern Ireland and I think this will continue throughout 2016 – particularly as we begin to edge closer to the lower corporation tax rate in April 2018.”
Fellow partner Alastair Keith explained that, whilst A&L Goodbody has had some role to play on most of the major international transactions in the jurisdiction in the past five years, its corporate team remains very much focused on local, indigenous transactions.
“In the past 12-to-18 months we have acted on a large portfolio of significant local transactions, including acting for Ballyrashane Creamery on its merger with Town of Monaghan Co-Op to create LacPatrick and for 3fivetwo Group on the acquisition of St Joseph’s Hospital, Sligo,” he said. “We also acted for SS Nomadic Trust on the transfer of the SS Nomadic to the Titanic Foundation; Dalata Group on its acquisition of the Holiday Inn, Belfast; and Adelie (Ireland) Limited on its acquisition of the business of Bite Snack Foods.
“On the international side, meanwhile, we continued to act on number of major transactions such as the acquisition of the Old Bushmills Distillery Company by Jose Cuervo; the disposal by United Drug Group Healthcare of its pharmaceutical distribution division and the acquisition of Valpar Industrial Limited by Micro Matic A/S.”
According to Thompson, the impending 12.5% corporation tax rate is already beginning to impact on transactions that the corporate team in Belfast is working on. “We are seeing decisions being taken now to invest in Northern Ireland because it is expected to have the lowest rate of corporation tax in the UK from April 2018,” he said.
“Whereas previously international companies considering coming into the UK would have looked to GB, there is now a genuine commercial proposition for setting up here instead and this is already affecting how we structure certain transactions.”
Alongside the work that the firm carries out on local and international investment coming into Northern Ireland, the partners said A&L Goodbody is always looking for innovative ways to assist clients looking outside the jurisdiction.
A prime example is the firm’s award-winning China programme.
“We are partnering with leading Chinese law firms to take interns for six months to give them exposure to Western markets,” Keith explained. “At the same time, we gain invaluable contacts in China and local market knowledge for clients looking to do business there.”
Keith said this international outlook is becoming evermore apparent among the firm’s clients. “Our clients are showing us that those prospering in the local market are pushing out internationally,” he said. “There isn’t a sufficient domestic market to enable those large companies to reach their full potential here and they are reaping the rewards of expanding into new markets. This, in turn, means the local legal market is also going to require that international footprint and capacity.”
Having grown significantly in recent years, the partners said the corporate team at A&L Goodbody has an unrivalled capacity to advise on the consistent flow of international transactions and high volume of local deals coming through its doors each year.
“We continued to invest in growing the business throughout the recession and have expanded the corporate department from three lawyers at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 to a team of 13 currently – making us the largest corporate team in the local market,” said Thompson.
“The team is a pure corporate transaction and advisory team in its truest sense. This means we have the capacity and the ability to deliver the highest quality of service on even the most complex transactions and we can seamlessly deliver any project on time – be it on a local, all-island or international basis.
“Each member of the team is a specialist in their own right and the group brings together a real depth and breadth of knowledge and experience. Some have grown up through the firm, while others have returned to Northern Ireland having spent time in ‘magic circle’ firms in GB. A number have also undertaken secondments in the likes of Invest Northern Ireland and NI Water, which really improves their commercial ability.”
Peter Stafford continued: “The past few years have been incredibly exciting for the corporate team. We have acted on a large portfolio of transactions and the fact that we are consistently busy and are working at such a high level means that we are exceptionally polished and up to speed on how things work.
“As corporate Northern Ireland becomes more sophisticated, it is looking for a more sophisticated legal services solution, and that’s what we have been doing for years in growing our corporate team in the way that we have.
“We wouldn’t perceive that there’s any difference in the quality of a corporate lawyer sitting in A&L Goodbody in Belfast or Dublin or New York or London,” he said. “The firm has an international reputation and, whereas companies in the local market used to have to go outside of the jurisdiction for this quality of service, they now get it in Northern Ireland but at a price which is compatible with this market.”
So what does the future hold for the corporate team at A&L Goodbody?
Thompson sees the role of the corporate lawyer in the Northern Ireland market evolving in the coming years. “Gone are the days when we were expected to simply provide a set legal service,” he said. “More and more we are being seen by our clients as business advisers and they are picking up the phone to run ideas past us, in the same way that they would traditionally have done with their accountants in the past.
“For us, that means a need for greater commercial awareness and a solid understanding of exactly what issues our clients are facing in order to offer them the best solutions. As the local economy develops and the private sector here in Northern Ireland matures, that level of service, sophistication and integration is going to be increasingly necessary.
“But ultimately it’s about trust,” Thompson continued. “We are renowned in the local market for our reliability and integrity and we have grown even throughout the downturn because we have the trust of a dedicated local client base. Our growth in the future will be underpinned by that same trust and our clients’ confidence in us that we are brilliant at what we do and will always deliver for them.”
Stafford concluded: “We have made great strides in recent years and, in the changed environment post-economic crisis, A&L Goodbody is now one of the biggest law firms in Belfast. Our corporate team sits within a wider team of over 100 people in our Belfast office and, as we edge closer to the 10th birthday of our Belfast office in May 2017, we anticipate that number to increase further as we continue to invest in our business to meet a growing demand for our service.”
Sarah Sistern, Solicitor
“Having trained with A&L Goodbody, I qualified as a solicitor into the corporate team in 2012.
“On joining the firm in 2010 the Belfast office was in its third year and was approximately a third of the size that it is today in terms of people on the ground (we now have over 100 people). It was a close-knit environment which had, and continues to have, a great focus on employee training and development. I have enjoyed building relationships with clients and playing a part in delivering a busy programme of workshops and seminars which are specifically tailored to their needs.
“Since qualifying I have had the opportunity to advise an exciting portfolio of clients in both the local and international markets. Recent highlights include advising the Irish Football Association on the redevelopment of the National Stadium at Windsor Park; advising Ballyrashane Co-Operative in relation to its merger with Town of Monaghan Co-Op to create LacPatrick; and advising Micromatic A/S in relation to its acquisition of the Valpar Group.”
David Rowan, Associate
"I joined the corporate department at A&L Goodbody in November 2012 having moved back to Northern Ireland from London, where I worked at a leading US law firm for six years.
“A&L Goodbody appealed to me for a variety of reasons, including the calibre of the firm's clients, its unrivalled reputation in the market, and the opportunity to work alongside our Dublin colleagues to advise clients on an all-island basis.
enjoy the innovative, dynamic and social culture of the firm and being given the opportunity to develop ongoing relationships with clients.
“I have been fortunate to work with a wide variety of local businesses in a range of sectors and have been involved in some of the largest and most complex corporate transactions in Northern Ireland over the last few years, including: advising Jose Cuervo on its acquisition of The Old Bushmills Distillery Company; advising Hasting Funds Management in connection with its acquisition of Phoenix Natural Gas; and advising the Aventas Group on the disposal of its packaging and construction industry supplies business.”
HOW THE INDUSTRY RATES A&L GOODBODY
Ranked Tier 1 for Corporate & M&A – The Legal 500 UK
Ranked Band 1 for Corporate & M&A – Chambers & Partners
Ranked top of M&A league tables – Experian Corpfin, 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015
‘Corporate Law Firm of the Year’ – Insider Media, 2013 & 2014
‘Northern Ireland Law Firm of the Year’ – The Legal 500 UK, 2015
‘European Law Firm of the Year’ – The Lawyer, 2015