Mills Selig, one of Belfast’s leading corporate law firms, has been working on deals and supporting its clients over the last few months amid a landscape like no other. But Chris Guy, managing partner and head of corporate, remains positive about the year ahead and has continued to expand and grow amid uncertainty
For Mills Selig, while the overall economy here has suffered arguably the most difficult period in modern times, it’s continued to strengthen its corporate offering for its clients.
The Belfast-based corporate law firm remains positive about what could lie around the corner in 2021, with a vaccine now on the cards and hopes for an overall improved economic landscape, after a year like no other.
“We are in a place with a really good team with great strength and depth,” Chris Guy says.
Chris heads up the Mills Selig corporate team, which has continued to add top talent to the firm over the last 18 months. That includes the promotion of Glenn Watterson to partner.
“It’s about the quality of people which we have here, the experience and how we develop staff – from apprentice to partner – which is what Glenn has done.” Chris says. Mills Selig has also taken on a new senior associate, Darren Marley, who has come from a corporate law firm in London.
“Darren has been working on a variety of sectors and has experience in high value M&A work in London so fits right into the Mills Selig team.
“We also recruited additional members to the team in the second half of last year, Jenna Watt and Emma McCloskey, who joined Hannah Gilpin as solicitors. The team is really great and one of the strongest here in Northern Ireland.
“We make sure we live out our values. It’s about being positive and supportive, working as a team and delivering exceptional client service. We make sure we become part of the client’s team – getting into the trenches with them in order to deliver. That has been so important this year in particular.
“It’s also about being proactive – making complex legal issues simple and making sure we have that full range of legal services our clients’ needs.”
“We have been busy over the last 12 months or so working on high value and complex deals,” Chris says. “We represented Bamford Bus Company on the acquisition of Wrightbus and have also worked on a number of large-scale deals such as advising shareholders of Novosco Group on the sale of the company to CANCOM Ltd.”
Mills Selig also advised Euro Garages on the deal to purchase Michael Herbert’s KFC business earlier this year.
“There has definitely been massive uncertainty, and some deals being put on hold or not happening due to coronavirus, particularly in sectors which have been impacted more than others,” Chris says.
“But in that time we have seen clients adapt and be resilient and we have also acted on a number of good deals.”
The corporate team at Mills Selig has particular strengths in areas such as MBOs (management buyouts). “We do a lot of MBOs and recently acted for management in their acquisition of Trucorp Group”, and also family businesses, “we act for numerous family businesses here, including on a recent £60m buyout of a shareholder from a family business.”
The tech sector also remains an area in which Mills Selig has a strong presence – a sector which has largely been unaffected by the Covid-19 crisis, and in some cases, has become stronger.
“We have a strong base in technology,” Chris says. “We act for First Derivatives plc and they have continued to be active. We also acted for French multi-national Questel when it made an acquisition of a firm here.”
Mills Selig works across a wide range of other corporate activity, including shareholder agreements, restructuring, investments and private equity.
While there was slowdown amid lockdown earlier this year, with activity paused in sectors hit hardest, Chris says there remains a solid pipeline of work and activity here. “We have still got a solid pipeline. There are certainly sectors which haven’t been impacted the same way and remain strong.”
Chris says that includes the energy sector, in particular renewables, with deals and investments continuing through the crisis.
Across the board, Chris says uncertainty still remains the buzzword when trying to assess the business landscape here, and elsewhere, over the coming months.
“Hospitality, for example, is obviously really struggling with coronavirus. At the same time, Brexit is becoming more of a feature again and there are issues out there for clients.
“Areas around accessing people and staff, supply chain concerns and exports – it’s about making sure businesses are as prepared as they can be. We are always helping clients with that, working with them continually to ensure proper planning.”
Looking ahead, Chris remains hopeful of a return to more buoyant business landscape in the new year, helped along by news that a vaccine to tackle Covid-19 is now on the way.
“We are reasonably busy right now and have that solid pipeline,” Chris says. “I am hoping we can get to March and see an improvement in economic conditions.
“While there is uncertainty, we are being very positive and continue to help clients get through this.
“The latest update about the vaccine is certainly good news and that will be key to unlocking things and helping us all get back to normal.
“It is quite sad when you are walking through the city and see so many businesses shut. There is a real impact and real lives are being affected by this this. We want to be in a place where we are moving on from that and things begin to improve.”