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Editor's blog

Mergers and markets

9 Nov 17

After the Maclays-Dentons merger, what now for the independent Scottish legal firm?

The beginning of this month saw the completion of the merger between Maclay Murray & Spens and Dentons, thus giving what is currently the world’s largest legal firm a substantial presence in Scotland.

So our small jurisdiction can now truly boast every size of practice from the newest sole practitioner startup to the biggest there is. That in a market which many believe to be still suffering from overcapacity and ripe for further “consolidation”, as the jargon has it.

Maclays have made no secret of their motives, and they reflect those of other leading firms that have chosen international mergers. The trend is for major clients that appoint law firm panels to cut drastically the number of chosen firms, and to seek those who can offer a UK-wide service, rather than maintain a separate Scottish panel. Conversely, it opens up opportunities for the Scottish based arm to win new business elsewhere – and for Scots-qualified lawyers to explore career paths worldwide.

Does it mean the end of the larger independent Scottish firm? Demonstrably not. Brodies, Burness Paull and Harper Macleod are only the largest of the respected substantial practices that have previously declared their commitment to focusing on the Scottish market, and to date have shown no sign of altering that strategy.

No particular strategy is right or wrong in itself. Some question whether the Scottish market is big enough to support ambitious practices. Burness Paull’s Philip Rodney had an answer in our July feature previewing his address to the Society’s annual conference: “Since I qualified, people have been writing Scotland off, and they’ve been saying the same thing, that businesses get bigger and then move to London. But Scottish business has the ability to regenerate itself.” As a leading example he cited Skyscanner, before going on to highlight the level of inward investment into Scotland and the need to service that market.

That does not mean that competition for work anywhere will be less than keen, or that those who are not prepared to be innovative will pick up work just the same. Some will still fall by the wayside. But the international interest in merging with Scottish practices must itself provide some sort of vote of confidence in the prospects for the domestic market.

There are those who worry about the extent to which leading Scottish firms are no longer controllers of their own destiny. It seems to me that should international interest in Scotland ever weaken, there are many still here who are ready and willing to take their place.

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