MKB Law – Top Drawer Legal Advice For Business Owners
13 September 2023
Originally published in the August edition of Business Eye magazine
Gordon McElroy is crystal clear when he’s asked about the focus for Belfast city centre law firm MKB Law.
“We’re a law firm for businesses. We want to work with business owners, particularly those employing anywhere from 10 to 250 people,” he says simply. “That’s where we think our sweet spot lies. It’s never a case of using off the shelf legal solutions. We want to talk to our clients to find out what they’re about, what their issues are and how we can help both their businesses and their families.
“We’re talking about local organisations in the £20 million to £100 million turnover bracket, and we’re very aware that these are companies with a wide range of legal challenges and legal requirements.
“But we’ve also got high net worth personal clients including some in the medical field and we can advise on a range of issues including succession planning.”
Larger and higher profile clients of MKB Law include leading homebuilders Lagan Homes, hospitality group Beannchor and Mallusk-based Titan Containers.
It’s a competitive marketplace for legal services around Belfast and Northern Ireland but, again, MKB Law’s Senior Partner reckons that his firm has something unique to offer. “A lot of firms in the city of around our size and larger have been taken over by big GB-based law firms. We’ve retained our independence, we’ve retained our affinity to family business owners here, and we know who our ideal business clients are.
“Like a lot of other firms here, we would have done a certain amount of legal aid work as well as personal injury cases, but we’ve drawn a line under that. We concentrate on what we are best at, and we think that’s the best way to differentiate ourselves as a practice.
“We don’t do lots and lots of employment claims. But we do do employment defence work on behalf of our business clients and claims to protect the rights of senior executives and professionals.”
MKB Law, based directly opposite the Grand Opera House on Belfast’s Great Victoria Street, majors on its corporate and commercial property divisions, led by Gordon McElroy and fellow partner Maria Conway respectively. But the firm also has active departments specialising in key areas such as licensing & gaming, debt & insolvency, banking & finance and energy & renewables. The firm also boasts a specialist employment law practice as well as a dedicated family law division with Anne Marie Kelly at the helm.
“We opened our doors 20 years ago, and we’ll be celebrating this later in the year. We started life largely as a commercial property practice but we’ve moved into the corporate arena, specifically working with family-owned businesses.
“We started out in a quarter of a floor of this building, now we’re occupying two floors. A few years ago, we had a turnover in the region of £1.7 million. Last year, having focused on the legal areas that we reckon we are best at, we managed to grow that turnover to £3 million. So we think that we’re doing something right.
“What’s more, we think that there is more growth on the cards. Certainly, in the corporate arena, the first half of 2023 saw half a dozen or so good-sized potential M&A deals coming in from our clients. Mergers and acquisitions are our bread and butter.
“And, on the other side of that equation, we also have a very strong insolvency practice headed up by David McAlinden, who has a lot of experience in that area.”
Gordon McElroy is clear that quality legal advice is just as important now, perhaps more so, that it has ever been. “Of course I’m going to say that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Lots of things can go wrong in business, and forward planning can make a huge difference.
“The best time to seek legal advice is when you’re setting out on a specific project. If you wait until a problem crops up, things can be really difficult. I’ve said before that much of what we do is about allocating risk in the right places. Often, when clients come to us, they don’t really know where risk should lie and where it shouldn’t. Analysing and advising on risk is something that we are good at.
“Our target is to double our turnover again by 2030. But we can’t do that without more people. We’ve already grown the size of our team here to around 40 people and we need to see that grow to closer to 60 in the near future. With a couple of trainees also due to join us this year, we’re confident we can grow to become a team of that size.
“We have analysed the training needs of our people, that’s something that is crucial to growing and being able to service our clients. It’s important, for example, that our business lawyers understand the principles of business and the kind of issues that our business clients are facing on a daily basis.”
So client-faced associate directors working in the corporate team have all been taking Mini MBAs at Queen’s University in Belfast and MKB Law also uses a range of face and face and online training resources in other key areas of speciality.
“It might sound like a bit of a cliché but we’ll also always try to keep things simple and to avoid legal jargon as much as we possibly can when it comes to working alongside our clients. Mutatis mutandis (Latin used in law to mean that the necessary changes have been made, ie in a document) is banned around here….!
In fact, MKB Law makes every effort to avoid documents altogether. While some law firms have found the transition to paperless working something of a challenge, the Belfast firm moved to the cloud some 10 years ago, well before the Covid pandemic made paperless working something of a necessity.
“The current climate is definitely challenging,” says Gordon. “We’ve come out of Covid, the war in Ukraine has caused problems and the Liz Truss effect has been profound. We’ve a lot of clients in the hospitality sector and they’ve certainly had their challenges but they’ve bounced back strongly.
“Our teams are all solicitor-led. When a client comes to us, their work will be led by a solicitor with access to partners. We don’t want to be all things to all people. We want to be very clearly focused on providing the services that our clients need. We know what we’re good at and we’re not going to stray into those that we’re not so good at…..”
This article is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional legal advice.