British Virgin Islands

Reviews

Practice area

IFLR1000 Reviews

Overview

Financial regulator: The British Virgin Islands Financial Services Commission

IFLR1000 ranking categories for this jurisdiction:

Financial and corporate, Investment funds

Jurisdiction overview

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, and its well-respected legal system derives heavily from that of the UK. It is a tax haven, with essentially no taxation except for real estate taxes and a payroll deduction shared by individuals and employers for salaries over $10,000. Hence the BVI is a popular jurisdiction for corporate and funds transactions involving specialised and innovative vehicles, structures, and products. The territory is home to sophisticated financial law firms whose partnerships are largely made up of lawyers trained in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, among other countries.  

The BVI’s reputation as a relatively laissez-faire jurisdiction is undiminished following the passage of the Legal Professions Bill in March 2015. This statute established a seven-member Virgin Islands General Legal Council, with oversight of bar admissions, ethics, and disciplining of lawyers found guilty of professional misconduct. Supporters of the bill see it as a victory for transparency and professionalism, while critics take issue with an allegedly discriminatory provision requiring UK-trained lawyers, including BVI natives who attend law school in the UK, to practice law for five years before admission to the BVI bar. 

The legal market of the BVI has grown dramatically in tandem with the jurisdiction’s popularity for doing corporate, capital markets, funds, and structured finance deals. Only one of the BVI’s large multijurisdictional corporate law firms, Harneys, originated in the BVI, in 1960. Harneys’ competitors are offices of Channel Islands or Cayman Islands-based law firms that merged with small local ones or set up their own BVI outposts. These include Harneys’ leading rival in the jurisdiction, Conyers Dill & Pearman, which arrived in 1996, as well as Walkers (2001), Maples and Calder (2004), Appleby (2005), Ogier (2007), and Mourant Ozannes (2012). 

The partnerships of BVI firms tend to include lawyers with a cross-border transactional practice, as befits legal professionals in a jurisdiction at a nexus of the global funds and structured finance markets. Lawyers at Harneys and other firms assist client seeking to make investments in the emerging markets of Africa and Latin America using offshore finance vehicles. The lawyers are sensitive to clients’ need for offshore vehicles that help draw foreign direct investment to a given market while preserving an exit strategy for the investors. The BVI is also increasingly popular for aviation finance and aircraft registration. 

The BVI is a unique place. There are obvious advantages to doing transactions there, but it is not uncommon to hear lawyers who have worked in both the Cayman Islands the BVI say that the latter’s social infrastructure is underdeveloped in comparison, and government officials may not respond promptly when a permit or signature is needed. But exciting developments are afoot. Further liberalisation of the rules, and more innovative structures and products, are on the horizon as confidence in vehicles once associated with rampant speculation continues to make its way back. 

Financial and corporate
Appleby

Appleby is a leading firm for financial and corporate matters and an active investment funds firm. 

Recent transactional work included borrower and lender side banking work and buy and sell-side acquisitions. The firm saw work in the hospitality, mining and oil and gas sectors over the research period.   

The firm added Robert Varley as partner from Babbe to its investment funds and banking practices.  

Recent Deal Data highlights 

•First Quantum Minerals $3 billion financing  

•Intercontinental Hotels Group $300 million acquisition of Six Senses 

•Ophir Energy acquisition of Santos Asian assets 

Client feedback: 

“Very good. Much more responsive than their peers. They are readily available and move much more quickly than comparable firms, and provide timely and accurate advice.” – Financial and corporate 

Collas Crill

Collas Crill is an active firm for financial and corporate and investment funds work.  

The firm was active this research period on the borrower side of real estate financings. Several of these deals financed real estate acquisitions, and the firm also advised the clients as acquirers in the corporate aspects of their acquisitions.  

Other work included borrower-side financing in the shipping sector and advising on a buy side acquisition in the logistics sector. 

One notable investment funds deal saw the firm advise a biotech company on a series B fundraise. The firm also advised an investment vehicle on dividing its assets among three generations of a family. 

Recent Deal Data highlights 

•Aprel Shipping $120 million financing  

•Crystal Development acquisition of 36 Dover Street, Mayfair 

•Extell Development acquisition of Brooklyn Point 

Client feedback: 

“Their responses are quick and accurate. They are very client-focused and provide quality service.” – Investment funds 

“The firm has excellent strength in depth. Very responsive and gives clear and constructive advice.” – M&A 

Conyers Dill & Pearman

Conyers Dill & Pearman is a top firm across the board.  

The team has been particularly active this research period in the M&A space, advising both buyer and sellers on deals in the healthcare, software and hospitality spaces.  

The firm has also advised issuers and funds on IPOs in the healthcare and food and beverages spaces.  

Recent Deal Data highlights 

•Deltatre $76.8 million acquisition Massive Interactive 

•Intercontinental Hotels Group $300 million acquisition of Six Senses 

•LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton $2.6 billion acquisition of Belmond hotel group 

Client feedback 

“This firm is pre-eminent in the BVI - a very strong boutique firm providing legal expertise and excellent client service in BVI law related matters.” – Banking  

“Audrey Robertson and her colleagues provide thoughtful, thorough, timely and practical advice and counsel that reflects a wealth of experience in both international M&A and financing transactions and local BVI issues. Audrey Robertson always helps our client solve the problem at hand, while protecting its interests.” – Capital markets: Equity 

Forbes Hare

Forbes Hare is an active transactional and investment funds firm.  

The research period saw the firm advise on borrower and lender side roles on financings. The firm was particularly active on financings in the real estate sector. 

Other matters include advice to a mining company on its secondary listing on OTCQX, buy-side M&A (which included a notable matter in the real estate sector) and helping companies with the merger of BVI subsidiaries. 

Recent Deal Data highlights 

•Mountain Hazelnuts Group $3 million financing  

•Zeno Capital refinancing 

Client feedback

“Advice was professional, detailed and prompt. The lawyer handling the matter, Catherine Ross, gave very helpful and practical advice. She is very knowledgeable and was very fast in responding to our queries; we had very little knowledge in a takeover of a BVI company and acquisition from Cayman-ELP of a subsidiary incorporated in Singapore and thus her assistance was truly valued. She advised us to ask for provisions in the sale share agreement from Cayman and BVI law perspectives. With her assistance, we were able to conclude a transaction successfully involving Singapore law, Korean law, BVI and Cayman laws. Also, the fees charged by Forbes Hare were most reasonable.” – M&A 

Harneys

Harney Westwood & Riegels is a leading firm for both financial and corporate and investment funds.  

Over the research period the firm secured a mix of lender and borrower side financing work in software and consumer goods and services.  

In the capital markets the firm was active on the issuer side of bond issues (in mining and real estate)  

In M&A the firm has had roles on the buy and sell side of M&A deals in the consumer goods and services, hospitality and energy sectors. 

The firm’s funds team has been active though details were confidential. Broadly speaking, the firm helped clients with the formation of new funds and acted as lead BVI counsel in relation to clients’ existing BVI funds. 

Recent Deal Data highlights 

•DXC Technology Company acquisition of Luxoft 

•Hyatt Hotels $480 million acquisition of Two Roads Hospitality 

•Polaris Infrastructure acquisition of Union Energy Group 

Client feedback 

“Strengths of the firm: knowledgeable, timely and fair costs. Weaknesses: none to date.” – Financial and corporate  

“Professional and timely advice with frequent follow-ups to our questions. They also keep the clients informed of all developments. They are ahead of other law firms with a dedicated team for each area of legal work. I would not trust any other firm for regulatory matters.” – Financial services regulatory 

“Clear, professional and timely advice on all matters. They have a great team of lawyers for each area and I would not use any other law firm in the BVI for regulatory matters.” – Financial services regulatory 

“Top law firm in the BVI” – Real estate 

Maples Group

Maples Group places top of the rankings for financial and corporate and investment funds work. 

Over the research period the banking team saw borrower and lender-side roles on financing in the energy, aviation and consulting sectors. 

The M&A team was particularly active this research period and saw buy-and sell-side work in technology, agribusiness and consumer goods and services.  

All investment funds matters were confidential but the firm has advised investment firms on managing their funds, restructuring funds, acquiring assets and forming new funds.  

Recent Deal Data highlights 

•Tate & Lyle acquisition of 15% stake in Sweet Green Fields 

•Uber $3.1 billion acquisition of Careem

Client feedback

“Maples and Calder have, in my opinion, been exemplary. Their work is of the highest standard and they are very responsive, regardless of time difference issues.” – Banking 

“Very responsive and capable. Extremely helpful - I rely on them tremendously.” – Project finance

Ruairi Bourke

"Ruairi and his team have been a pleasure to work with and I look forward to working with the team on many more transactions in the years to come."

Mourant Ozannes

Mourant Ozannes is a strong transactional firm but details of the firm’s work this research period are confidential. Broadly speaking the firm was particularly active on financing matters, advising both borrowers and lenders, and saw some notable work in energy and real estate. 

Ogier

Ogier is a strong financial and corporate and active investment funds firm. 

Over the research period the firm’s investment funds team advised investment management companies on establishing funds.  

The firm also advised on the acquisition and sale of funds and of other investment management companies.  

The firm is active in the M&A space and advised buyers, sellers and merger parties on deals in a range of sectors including retail, pharmaceuticals and insurance over the research period. Other recent matters included advising issuers on SPAC IPOs and advising a borrower on a real estate finance.  

Recent Deal Data highlights 

Bison/ Xynomic Pharmaceuticals merger 

Life Company €409 million acquisition of Generali 

National Energy Services Reunited $1.1 billion acquisition of Gulf Energy 

O'Neal Webster

O'Neal Webster is an active transactional firm that over the research period has advised a bank on regulatory matters related to online banking, a buyer on an acquisition, and a technology company as borrower on a financing.

Walkers

Walkers has a leading financial and corporate and strong investment funds practice. 

Recent banking deals include lender-side advice on financings in the agriculture, healthcare and real estate sectors. 

The M&A team primarily reported advice to buyers over the research period, though also advised sellers and merger parties. The team saw recent work in the technology, oil and gas and packaging sectors. 

The firm added partner Oliver Bell from Harneys and partner Matthew Cowman from Australian Unity to its financial and corporate practice.  

Recent Deal Data highlights 

•MabSpace Biosciences / HJB merger 

•Taghleef Industries acquisition of Biofilm 

Client feedback

“No weaknesses perceived. Walkers were highly responsive and were very familiar with the type of work.” – Banking 

“The team at Walkers was extremely diligent, responsive and thoughtful in their guidance throughout this transaction. Their jurisdiction-specific knowledge, as well as appreciation for the complexities of the transaction as a whole, made them invaluable partners. We will definitely be reaching out to Walkers again for future opportunities to work with this excellent team.” – Capital markets: Debt 

“Walkers was extremely responsive and knowledgeable.” – Capital markets: Equity 

“The firm does good work on time at a reasonable price.” – Investment funds