Posted on Friday 18 January 2019 by Ulster Business

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Nine months into his role as head of office at A&L Goodbody in Northern Ireland, Michael Neill gives us his outlook for the firm in 2019

With over 20 years specialising in financial services, corporate restructuring and disputes, Michael Neill is consistently ranked as a leader in his field by various legal publications. A partner at A&L Goodbody (ALG) for almost a decade, he was appointed to the role of head of office at the firm in Belfast in April 2018.

“Since joining ALG I have seen our Belfast office grow exponentially in size, capability and geographical reach, both locally and internationally,” he says. “This is not only a testament to an incredibly strong partner team, but to everyone within the firm and at all levels.

“We’re now a team of more than 120 lawyers and business support professionals and, with demand for our services increasing year on year, I anticipate that we will continue to grow in 2019.”

Michael says that, alongside the firm’s long-established ‘core’ disciplines (corporate and M&A, commercial property, litigation and banking and finance), ALG in NI has seen an upsurge in demand for its specialist advisory services in new and emerging areas of law.

“As a firm we have never stood still. We’re committed to developing the most innovative, commercial and strategic legal advice for our clients and their businesses. This means demonstrating leadership, spotting trends and investing accordingly.

“In recent years we have invested in developing our expertise in specialist areas such as financial regulation and fintech; media, IP and disputes, GDPR and energy law. We see demand for these thriving practices growing further throughout 2019 and beyond.”

Alongside his head of office role, Michael continues to head the firm’s Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency department in Northern Ireland.

The team experienced its busiest year on record in 2018, taking roles on all of the headline-grabbing restructurings and insolvencies during the year – including advising in relation to the only public listed companies to enter an insolvency process in Carillion plc and Johnston Press plc. From a Northern Ireland perspective, they also took roles in the administrations of McErlain’s Bakery, American Golf, Williams Industrial Services and many more, particularly in the retail sector.

“Our team being retained across each and every one of these high-profile cases is a result of the outstanding quality of our lawyers,” he believes. “But this high calibre isn’t unique to our corporate restructuring team – it transcends every practice area in the firm.

“As well as technical expertise, our clients expect legal excellence, unwavering confidence and industry know-how from their legal advisor and they find that in every one of our lawyers. We’re immensely proud of the value and impact everyone in the firm brings to client service.”

One aspect of ALG’s people investment strategy is a focus on diversity and inclusion. “We’re heavily invested in creating a progressive culture and work environment where every single employee – regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, religion or role in the firm – feels valued and included. In 2018 we assigned a designated diversity and inclusion partner in Tracey Schofield, who works closely with our talent and HR lead in Belfast.”

ALG also remains committed to supporting the community in Northern Ireland this year through its programme of partnerships and collaborations. “In addition to our official charity partnerships, we’re keen to support the wider interest of our clients, staff and the community in which we work and live. Our official sponsor of the world premiere production of the stage musical version of Good Vibrations at the Lyric Theatre is a good example of this,” he says.

For the past three years, the firm has also collaborated with Ulster Business in hosting the Top 100 Companies banquet. “We’re very proud of our involvement in the Top 100,” Michael says. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase our most important companies and to acknowledge just how much they contribute to the NI economy every year.

“It’s a good fit for us as a firm, since we’re already working with so many of the Top 100 to advise on a range of legal matters, at home and abroad.”

While ALG is renowned for its work on high-profile international legal matters, Michael is keen to point out that the firm has also established a strong local client base over the past decade.

“Our work on some of the very large international transactions, by its very nature, is often quite visible in the market,” he says. “We’re winning this work because of our ability to offer a truly all-island service, as well as being able to tap into the expertise of lawyers in the firm internationally.

“But what is often overlooked is the work we do day in, day out with Northern Irish companies – and that’s the work we’re most proud of. Over the past 11 years we have nurtured long-established relationships with local SMEs and larger entities and have invested in growing our local client base significantly year on year.”

So, what’s next for A&L Goodbody?

“Like any other business, we’re entering 2019 with some uncertainty in terms of what lies ahead politically and economically,” Michael says.

Despite this uncertainty, he is positive about the outlook for A&L Goodbody in 2019 and beyond. “We’re going into 2019 with a sense of ‘cautious optimism’,” he says.

“We will be pushing ahead with our ambitious plans to better serve our clients and also attract and develop the very best talent. Alongside this, we will further strengthen our position as a market leader by continuing to invest in emerging technologies in order to offer a modern, efficient and commercially-focused service to our clients.”

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