Murray McCall: Legal tie-ups not always the best option

Anderson Strathern managing partner Murray McCall
Anderson Strathern managing partner Murray McCall
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2015 has been one of the most newsworthy years in the recent history of Scotland’s legal sector.

There have been positive stories of growth, including at our own firm, Anderson Strathern, and less fortunate headlines, most notably around the sad demise of McClure Naismith.

The Anderson Strathern offices in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Anderson Strathern offices in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow

While the year has not seen the mega-mergers of 2012 through 2014, there have been a number of small to medium-sized mergers to illustrate that the industry remains ripe for tie-ups.

As you might expect, at Anderson Strathern we keep a close eye on merger activity – and from time to time over the years we have privately spoken to other firms about their own strategies for growth – although it’s important we don’t allow this circumspection to get in the way of day-to-day activities and our ambition to be one of the top three Scottish law firms.

What mergers and going into administration have in common is that both of those processes release lawyers into the marketplace and provide opportunities for firms like ours to attract top talent into the fold. While the logic often said to be intrinsic to mergers is economies of scale, it’s also true that mergers can erode value.

While we would never want to rule out a substantial merger altogether – Anderson Strathern itself was founded by the merger of two established Edinburgh firms in 1992 – our partners are collectively of the view that our medium-term future is best served by a standalone strategy of organic growth, lateral hires and, perhaps, the odd opportunity to bring smaller scale practices or teams into our existing business – in fact, we should be in a position to announce one such deal before the end of the year.

Our primary focus heading into 2016 remains a client-first approach; building growth in the business, something we will expand on when we report our annual results next month. We think strengthening our team of specialist lawyers while encouraging collaboration and innovation best positions us to offer high level legal advice to our clients across the commercial, public and private sectors.

We’ve had one of best years in the firm’s history – punctuated by a series of client wins and awards – but the last thing we will do is rest on our laurels. There is no denying the Scottish legal sector’s ever-competitive nature and we’re always looking at ways to step up our game – we have a major rebrand exercise in train and recently appointed the highly regarded Graeme Bissett as a non-executive director to the firm’s board in order to add commercial weight to our senior team.

We often get asked whether we need to set up shop with a bricks and mortar presence in London – and it’s undeniable that Scottish firms must look beyond their own border to seek further growth – but what we have found fits our strategy best is a policy of building partnerships with London firms and this represents a significant avenue of growth in the years ahead. We are currently working with some of London’s best known firms on a number of cases across multiple territories through this type of partnership.

For Anderson Strathern, this allows us to retain our own identity while stopping short of the kind of formal tie-up or permanent presence that we do not believe would be in the best interests of our clients or our people.

• Murray McCall is managing partner of Anderson Strathern