Interview: Murray McCall of Anderson Strathern

Murray McCall at the Edinburgh offices of Anderston Strathern. Picture: Jane Barlow
Murray McCall at the Edinburgh offices of Anderston Strathern. Picture: Jane Barlow
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HAVING decided at an early age to pursue a legal career, Murray McCall envisaged himself as a trial lawyer, emulating his childhood heroes from the hit US series LA Law.

Kilmarnock may have been a world away from Los Angeles, but thought of getting his teeth stuck into the cut and thrust of criminal law appealed to the young McCall, at least until he went off to university in Glasgow and realised that “this wasn’t for me”.

You’ve got to be discerning and decide whether it fits with the firm

“So I specialised very early on in employment law and grew my practice in that area,” he says from the Edinburgh offices of Anderson Strathern, which are tucked away in the Exchange financial district, boasting impressive views across the city and beyond.

McCall joined the firm in May 2006, following stints with McGrigors and MacRoberts, because he wanted to do something more “business-focused”, and in September last year he was appointed as managing partner.

His appointment coincided with the height of the independence campaign, and McCall insists the referendum – on which Anderson Strathern took a neutral stance – did not cause him any sleepless nights.

“We were prepared to embrace the decision one way or another, and I suppose it’s natural for lawyers to see the pros and cons of both sides,” he explains.

“It was a busy time, as some deals were on hold pending the outcome and that log-jam ended after the vote. But I think corporate and commercial work was picking up significantly anyway, and that’s carrying on.”

Profits at Anderson Strathern rose to £7.3 million in the year to 31 August 2014, up from £6.5m previously, and McCall says its “very healthy” performance in terms of new business has continued into its new financial year, with profits for the six months to February up about 13 per cent.

“It’s been a ­rem­arkably busy period. We had a good increase last year and the first six months of this year are looking really good. Hopefully, we’ll see more of that in the second half, and all the signs are very positive.”

An intense period of consolidation in the Scottish sector, which also witnessed the collapse of rival Tods Murray in October, has created opportunities for the practice to add to its 280-strong headcount across Edinburgh, Glasgow and Haddington, and McCall argues that tie-ups are “natural and in some ways desirable” for the legal industry.

He says: “There’s been a lot of consolidation talk recently but it’s been going on for years. We set up in Glasgow in 2006 and the following year took over Kerr & Co, who were very well known in that market. That turned out to be a fantastic bolt-on for our practice because they had some phenomenal commercial lawyers but also a good bank of private client work.”

The construction sector connections that the deal brought saw Anderson Strathern get involved in the development of the athletes’ village that forms part of the Commonwealth Games’ legacy, and in 2011 the firm took over Bell & Scott, which McCall describes as a “premier” property law firm that was doing very well despite the downturn in the market.

Anderson Strathern itself is the product of the 1992 merger of Edinburgh firms – J&F Anderson and Strathern & Blair – and while McCall says that exploratory talks frequently take place about further deals, “if it doesn’t fit with your strategic aims, you leave it alone”.

He adds: “If you’re focused on being the best firm in Scotland, it’s not necessarily the case that you’d want to merge with anyone knocking on the door – and people come knocking quite a lot.

“You’ve got to be discerning and decide whether it fits with the firm, its culture and client base. If you’re not ticking those boxes there’s no point in taking it further. It’s usually beneficial to at least have a coffee and find out what the proposition is. Very many of these discussions end quickly and you move on.”

The father of two was the first generation of his family to go to university and, after climbing to the top at Anderson Strathern, says he enjoys learning from the younger members of the team, who are encouraged to ask questions of the management and suggest new directions of travel at regular discussion sessions.

He says: “There’s almost a family feel to the firm, which is surprising for such a big practice. I’ve worked in smaller firms where you get that feeling naturally because of the size, and I want to make sure we build on that.”

As well as its strong presence in the fields of private client, commercial and public sector law, Anderson Strathern is keen to give something back by working with good causes – a move that could yet provide some of the Hollywood glamour that McCall sought during his days watching LA Law.

He says the firm has being doing pro bono work “for a few years” for Social Bite, the sandwich chain that helps the homeless. The social enterprise hit the headlines recently with the announcement that actor George Clooney will visit Edinburgh in November as the main speaker at this year’s Scottish Business Awards, the annual gala organised by Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn.

“It’s certainly created a bit of a stir in the office and we’re very much looking forward to the awards,” McCall says.

30 SECOND CV:

Job: Managing partner, Anderson Strathern.

Education: Kilmarnock Academy; Glasgow University.

Ambition while at school: I always thought I’d end up as an advocate or doing criminal law. As a child, I would have found very exciting.

Car: A covertible F-Type Jaguar – but my ultimate ambition would be an Aston Martin.

Reading material: I really like Caitlin Moran, but George Orwell’s 1984 is my all-time favourite.

Can’t live without: If I’m being really honest it would be my Blackberry – it’s an essential work tool. I’m trying to move to an iPhone but still like buttons.

Favourite place: Rome and Barcelona.

Best thing about your job: 
The variety and the ability to influence change.