Solicitors governing body: Lögmannafélag Íslands
Competition authority: Samkeppniseftirlitið
Financial regulator: Fjármálaeftirlitið
IFLR1000 ranking categories for this jurisdiction:
Energy and infrastructure (published June) – Energy and infrastructure
Financial and corporate (published October) – Financial and corporate
With a population of just 325,000 Iceland is the smallest non-microstate nation in Europe, and is also the most sparsely populated. Despite its size – and even taking into account its suffering one of the most dramatic consequences of the financial crisis – it is considered one of the best places to do business in the world, ranking above heavyweights such as France and the Netherlands. Much like its Nordic neighbours, it has an unrivalled reputation for openness and transparency. Indeed, only Sweden and Norway are seen as more established democratic nations and it ranks above both the UK and France in terms of human development.
Economically the country has diversified since the financial crash, which saw the collapse of its three biggest banks. Traditional industries such as fishing remain vitally important – as do the production of aluminium and ferrosilicon – but there has also been a significant increase in the technology and tourism sectors in particular.
With one of the freest and most flexible labour markets in the world and a favourable tax regime – it has one of the lowest corporate tax rates globally – it is a favourable destination for foreign direct investment. This is especially true in the energy sector, where the vast majority of the country’s energy needs are met through domestic renewable resources, and it has one of the highest rates of energy production per capita in the world.
Unsurprisingly because of its size, the legal market remains dominated by a few major domestic firms, with no foreign law firms currently registered. There are no nationality restrictions on practising law for individuals, though there is a requirement of at least one year’s residency for foreign nationals wishing to sit the bar exam. As a signatory to the European Free Trade Agreement there are also no restrictions on foreign lawyers from fellow EEA states providing legal services in the country. Those from outside this area, though, are more restricted in their scope.
Jonathan Moore - Journalist - EMEA
One of the leading teams in the Icelandic market, BBA Legal is noted for its financial and corporate work, M&A and project finance in particular.
In the banking space, the firm has completed significant financing work for clients including ABN Amro, Arion Bank, Danske Bank and Nordea Bank. Within M&A, the firm worked for Ábrandur Holding on the sale of its stake in Íslenska Auglýsingastofan, and for Norsk Hydro on its acquisition of a company operating an aluminium smelter.
Geothermal energy work has been a key trend in the firm’s project matters, with it advising international and local clients on issues ranging from financing to research. Notably, the firm is working for private equity firm Algaennovation on a sea-farming project at the Hellisheidi Geothermal Park, as well as with the Turkish Development Bank and the World Bank on the creation of a risk sharing mechanism for geothermal drilling operations in Turkey.
Outside of those already mentioned, key clients of the firm include Boeing, Expedia, JPMorgan and Microsoft.
“We are very pleased with the firm's work on our behalf. The staff are always available and deliver quality work.” – M&A, restructuring and insolvency
Juris is recognised for its strength in cross-border corporate and M&A work, and has been active in sectors including infrastructure, natural resources and technology.
In banking, the firm notably worked alongside Reginn on its note programme intended to refinance existing debt. Other public financial and corporate work included assisting Halicilla on the acquisition and management of various properties connected to the salmon fishing, and playing a key role in a series of deals involving food chain, Domino’s Pizza.
In the project development space, the firm has worked on deals involving related to building silicon plants and data centres.
A notable staffing change during the research period was the addition of Hólmfríður Sigurðardóttir, who returned to the firm after two years at Iceland’s competition authority.
Key clients include Gamma, Íslandsbanki and Kaupthing.
“Juris has been diverse and been on call every hour of the day since I started my business. They give me all the assurance I need, both in Iceland and abroad.” – Banking
"Overall, an excellent law firm. Very responsive towards our needs and provide high quality work. Their know-how, including business acumen, is excellent in all the fields they have been asked to work on. We always feel that their resources are sufficient to handle our matters in a timely fashion. They have in particular opined on matters related to environmental law, investment agreements, analysis of the impact of EU/EEA law in Iceland and general corporate legal advice, and they have done so in a splendid manner. They have also done some good work related to competition law and energy law. Juris is also good to work with when legal firms abroad are being used, as they are extremely helpful in mapping the relevant issues towards the jurisdiction in question." – Capital markets, project finance
“He is lenient and knows my business in and out. He is always on standby and has a friendly approach which I find rare in the corporate environment. He has saved me and my company from many mistakes and doesn't charge us if he only has to lift a finger. Would recommend him to anyone and already have”
“He is very strong in finance and cross border corporate matters. He is diligent, meticulous and delivers with high attention to detail and swiftly responds to any inquiries. Simon speaks splendid Icelandic which is quite unusual for a non-native, and of course his English is excellent.”
“Extremely strong in EU/EEA matters and the interplay between Icelandic law and the EU. He has also worked on matters related to investment law and public procurement and has a great depth of knowledge in investment and trade law in general.”
Lagahvoll has strengths in acting on issues concerning compliance and corporate governance.
The firm has extensively worked on corporate administrative duties during the research period, including on matters such as the incorporation of investment vehicles, and the provision of due diligence services for potential acquirers evaluating target compa nies. In M&A a key deal saw the firm work for private equity funds Akur Fjárfestingar and Horn III on the acquisition of shares in Ölgerðin, the largest producer of beer and soft drinks in Iceland.
In the capital markets space the firm notably worked on the preparation of a prospectus for a bond programme and on the listing of the bonds on the Icelandic Stock Exchange.
The firm’s client base ranges from start-up ventures to established Icelandic corporations including aluminium company Áltak, food company Múlakaffi and fast food chain Hamborgarafabrikkan.
“High quality services and a hands-on approach towards the client.” – Banking, M&A
“He distinguishes himself by consistently submitting exceptionally well-researched and well-written legal analysis, and has a superb analytical and communication skills.”
Landslög, one of the island’s larger firms by number of partners, is best known for transactional work and is regularly involved in the market’s high-end M&A deals. The firm works closely with the national courts to assist on bankruptcy and reconstruction cases after establishing a strong working relationship during the Icelandic financial crisis in the late 2000s. Likewise, it also provides banking advice to organisations including Kaupthing and the Financial Supervisory Authority.
Landslög’s recent M&A work included advice to the seller in the largest real-estate transaction in Iceland in 2017. Other landmark deals completed in the research period include advising Vodafone on the purchase of several assets from media corporation, 365 Miðlar, and Hagar on the purchase of oil company Olíuverzlun Íslands.
The firm’s client base has experienced steady growth over recent years to include retailers such as Hagar and SMI, alongside several Icelandic ministries.
“Excellent in all fields.” – Banking
Hörður Helgi Helgason
Lex Law Offices is one of Iceland’s leading firms for financial and corporate work, with a peculiar extra offering in capital markets, an area largely regarded to be uncommon in Iceland.
In M&A, the firm worked on a number of high-profile acquisitions on the buy side for clients and notably advised Sjávarsýn in its acquisition of Tandur, in a deal which was carefully orchestrated to have a brisk completion. The team also provided corporate administrative assistance to Costco, as it became the first international wholesale retailer to set up Icelandic operations. Highlight banking deals include acting for the lenders on the refinancing of a Scandinavian IT group and an Icelandic fish farming entity.
Staffing changes during the research period include the addition of former CATO partner, Eyvindur Sólnes, who is a specialist in company and finance law. On the other side, the firm lost key partner Aðalsteinn Jónasson, who left his work in the banking and capital markets teams to become a judge at the newly founded Court of Appeal.
Domestic banks Arion Bank, Íslandsbanki and Landsbankinn regularly work with the firm.
“Very good experience with the firm. Good knowledge of international practices for an Icelandic firm. Highly organised and efficient, with a strong partner in discussing the practical implications of the legal documentation. Firm has enough diversity in expertise to allow partners to source specialised knowledge from other parts of the firm.” – M&A, restructuring and insolvency
Guðmundur Ingvi Sigurðsson
“Highly impressed with his work. He is on top of everything, and the project he handles never slips. He is knowledgeable and conscientious.”
Logos is prominent in Iceland across the financial and corporate space, with particular strengths in banking, financial restructuring and M&A.
During the research period, the firm’s M&A team performed well across a number of different areas. The practice covered a wide range of sectors including several matters in biotechnology, gaming and tourism. The firm notably advised Iceland’s largest telecommunications company, Síminn, and the large seafood company, Samherji, on refinancing transactions.
In the restructuring and insolvency area, the firm has arguably been the market’s leader in dealing with Icelandic companies facing liquidation, and on cross-border matters. Among highlight work was a leading role in overseeing the financial restructuring for Iceland’s fifth largest municipality, Reykjanesbær, to limit the region’s debt rate.
The firm’s satellite base in London and membership in Lex Mundi has positively contributed towards its image internationally, with its clients including Goldman Sachs, Marriott International and Domino's Pizza in addition to Icelandic companies such as Nova Telecom and Valitor.
“Experienced, knowledgeable and very pleasant to work with.” – M&A, restructuring and insolvency
Heiðar Ásberg Atlason
“Responsive. An expert in his field and a pleasure to work with.”