A suite of legal and financial solutions
INNOVATION PROFILE Walkers Ireland:IN JUST TWO years, Walkers Ireland has established a strong presence in Dublin offering a complete suite of legal and Irish tax advisory solutions and global corporate and special purpose vehicle management services for clients across the financial services sector.
“We operate across a broad range of practice areas, including corporate, funds, structured finance and asset finance,” explains managing partner Vicki Hazelden. “Dublin is a sophisticated and attractive market. We offer a complete one-stop shop for our clients and a wide range of options for structuring financial services.”
Dublin is the latest location for the fast growing firm which has expanded from its original Cayman Islands base to establish offices in the British Virgin Islands, Delaware, Dubai, Hong Kong, Jersey, London and Singapore, employing 500 staff over the past 11 years.
The company provides legal and management services to Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 corporations and financial institutions, capital markets participants, investment fund managers and middle market companies.
The move into Ireland came as a result of a regular partners’ discussion on the firm’s next steps. “We have regular partners’ retreats where we go away to a hotel somewhere for a weekend to discuss strategy and so on,” says Hazelden. “Back towards the end of 2009 we were talking about where the firm was going next – would it be Luxembourg, Mauritius or some other country?
“Ireland was widely debated and the view was that what our clients were looking for in the post-crisis environment was what Ireland can offer in terms of funds, private equity, hedge funds, structured finance, insolvency and corporate recovery and so on. These were all areas that were a good fit for us and Ireland.”
Things moved fast from there. “Walkers doesn’t mess about”, she adds. “That meeting was in October, 2009, and by March of 2010 we were in the Westbury Hotel interviewing for senior roles in the new operation in Dublin. We had to hire people at the very top of their game in the different specialisms we operate in. We had to get the leading lights in those areas and that meant recruiting really good people. They are very hard to get; it wasn’t easy but it is something we managed to do.”
The Irish practice was grown organically, from the top down. “We are very happy with where we have ended up as a result of that process,” Hazelden notes. “That’s how we created the practice here; we started at the top and let the senior partner build the team. We will shortly have 30 lawyers in the practice after just two years – that makes us the fastest growing law firm in the country.”
Garry Ferguson is head of structured products and capital markets with Walkers Ireland and was the first partner hired by the firm in Dublin. “I was aware they were talking to other senior people in other law firms in Dublin but what attracted me and enthused me about Walkers is that the firm is a very focused financial services outfit”, he recalls.
“The firm doesn’t attempt to be all things to all people. It has a full service offering for the financial services area but doesn’t do criminal or property or other areas of the law. That way we can develop a much deeper relationship with our clients in the areas of most interest to them.”
Walkers expanded into Dublin in recognition of an increase in demand for EU-domiciled vehicles for certain investment fund strategies, parallel Cayman and UCITS funds structures, as well as the prevalence of financing structures that incorporate both Cayman and Irish domiciled special purpose vehicles, he adds.
“We focus principally on corporate and international finance law with an emphasis on investment funds, private equity and capital markets and structured finance”, he continues. “Our firm delivers clear, concise and practical advice based on an in-depth knowledge of the legal, regulatory and commercial environment in a variety of jurisdictions. We are experienced in all types of international and cross-border transactions and are committed to developing close working relationships with our clients and their professional advisers. Our global presence means we are always open and accessible to clients in all time zones.
“The type of client we work with have an interest in all jurisdictions and we have credible offers across the Americas, Europe and Asia. For example, a client may require Irish, Cayman and Jersey law advice in a single deal and we can provide that. Also, our service has the same look and feel wherever it is delivered and our clients appreciate that.”
The Irish firm’s client base comprises some of the world’s leading financial institutions, hedge fund managers and private equity groups. “Our primary focus has been on investment funds, aircraft finance and the usage of Irish companies for a broad range of capital markets activities,” Ferguson points out.
“Taxation is a driving force behind much of this activity, and it was a priority of ours to build a credible tax practice from the outset. An indication of our ambition for the Irish office is that it took less than two years for us to build a sustainable tax offering on par with those of our competitor firms.”
As the practice has evolved and grown it has availed of opportunities to add areas which are complementary to its core areas, such as restructuring and insolvency, corporate and regulatory compliance.
One good example of an early success for Walkers was the establishment of a dedicated insurance linked securities (ILS) team which comprises members from its capital markets and taxation groups.
“An insurance linked security is a bond whose return for investors is linked to an insurance product”, Ferguson explains. “Admittedly, it is a fairly niche market and is somewhat arcane, but it is precisely the type of thing that gets us excited. Given that the team that we have assembled in Walkers accounts for the vast majority of ILS activity done through Irish companies over the years it was an obvious target for us to pursue. The idea to launch the group was hatched in July 2011 with the launch taking place in September of that year. Within months we advised on our first ILS transaction and had undertaken a number of ILS-related projects for leading operators in that space. It is a practice area that continues to grow.”
Another area of expertise for the firm in Dublin is aircraft finance. “Not many people realise it but half of the world’s fleet of leased commercial aircraft is managed from Ireland and some of the finest minds in aircraft finance in the world are working in Dublin’s docklands”, Ferguson points out. “Our role is to provide the legal and taxation infrastructure to facilitate and promote this activity.”
He also points to a role the firm plays in promoting Ireland overseas. “We hold 7,000 business development meetings with clients around the globe every year and Ireland is mentioned as a good place to do business at many of these meetings. We also have a number of Irish staff working in our overseas offices and these people are also helping to promote the country.”
Hazelden attributes the firm’s success to its people and its culture. “We constantly seek to enhance our reputation as the global offshore law firm of choice for investment banks, international law firms, collateral managers, and other financial institutions,” she says. “And we pride ourselves on our entrepreneurial spirit and our ability to provide creative, innovative and effective solutions to our clients wherever our clients need or want them. We constantly strive to recruit and retain the best talent, to provide a dynamic and satisfying professional environment for our people and to maintain an atmosphere of commitment and trust amongst our people. Our offices may be geographically dispersed and operate in very different cultures but there is a shared vision of making Walkers a great law firm and a great place to work.”