A large and enthusiastic selection of Scotland’s finest legal professionals assembled at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on Thursday to celebrate the tenth annual Scott + Co Scottish Legal Awards.
Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, who was standing in for chair of the judging panel, Margo MacDonald MSP, said the awards had attracted entries from a record number of firms, “a sign of some confidence in the profession at a time when confidence is in short supply”.
She said many firms had shared some excellent examples of their strategic thinking, leadership and positive action. She stressed that even reaching the finalist shortlist is a considerable achievement.
“No matter how you fare this evening, please accept our congratulations for your efforts in getting to this stage. You should feel justifiably proud. It really is a tough competition to win.”
The evening was hosted by BBC Scotland’s Louise White and Dougie Vipond, who conducted the presentation of awards with practised efficiency.
Edinburgh-based commercial law firm Davidson Chalmers picked up the top award as DX Firm of the Year. The judges described the firm as “busy, confident and highly successful in achieving the objectives in its key strategic plan”, showing remarkable growth and a strong balance sheet in 2012.
Philip Rodney, chairman of Burness Paull & Williamsons, was the first winner of The Scotsman Chairman/Managing Partner of the Year, a new award. The honour acknowledged his role in pursuing and consolidating the merger last year between what he describes as his “heritage firm”, Burness, with Aberdeen-based Paull and Williamsons.
Rodney said his previous highest accolade was junior photographer of the year, in 1966. He added: “I’m grateful for the award but this has been a team effort in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. It was a genuine merger. There was no great overlap between us previously. It has been alchemy, putting together two long-established firms and creating something that is greater than the sum of the parts.
“The combined turnover of the two firms was in the region of £37m but for us this is a platform for further growth.”
He particularly paid tribute to his fellow partner, Ian Wattie, “who is the firm’s ‘feet on the ground’ to my ‘head in the clouds’”.
The Lifetime Achievement award went to Bruce Ritchie, who was honoured after 22 years of service to the profession, heading the professional practice department of the Law Society of Scotland until his retirement in December.
The citation was presented by Sir Andrew Cubie, who recalled that when Ritchie took on the role, after 17 years in private practice, he was the sole employee dealing with the dilemmas and challenges of the society’s members.
“He has worked tirelessly, creating an effective in-house team which now handles over 12,000 often complex enquiries from members each year, as well as overseeing the provision of countless hours of CPD through the society’s member events.
“His wide-ranging work saw him deal at the coalface of the profession at many levels, from a relatively simple matter of a conflict for a high street law firm to the regulatory issues of a large multinational firm practising in Scotland. He is an enthusiastic ambassador for the legal profession, truly passionate about sharing his knowledge for the benefit of others.”
Large firms and small picked up awards on the night, with Dundas and Wilson collecting the Trainee Firm of the Year accolade, while start-up firm Fox and Partners collected two awards – as Employment Team of the Year and Specialist of the Year for Carol Fox.
Aberdeen-based firm Mackinnons also won for the first time, taking home two awards – for Registers of Scotland Residential Property Team of the Year and the Hotel Missoni Private Client Team of the Year.
Other winners on the night were MBM Commercial, with Claire Corbin picking up the award for Scottish Paralegal Association Paralegal of the Year.
HBM Sayers was named the Litigation Team of the Year, with Irwin Mitchell receiving a highly commended citation from the judges. Irwin Mitchell was first to the line in another category, winning the MCL Fund-raising Firm of the Year.
Harper Macleod won Wolffe Design Energy Team of the Year. Judges remarked on the remarkable increase in its volume of work which had supported an expansion of the team.
The Millar & Bryce Innovation award was one of the categories with the highest number of entries. Again, judges marked the quality of the field by giving a highly commended citation to Dundas & Wilson but Simpson & Marwick was crowned the winner. After the awards were given and received, stand-up comedian Hal Cruttenden said how delighted he was as a middle-class English teller of jokes to be asked to entertain 450 Scottish lawyers. He was a great success, tweeting later: “Well, I really enjoyed my little slot at the Scottish Legal Awards. Definitely moving to Scotland now and forcing my kids to become lawyers.”
The awards have now raised more than £100,000 for charity, with Children 1st and LawWorks Scotland this year’s recipients of funds raised.
Scott & Co Employment Team of the Year
Fox and Partners
Wolffe Design Energy Team of the Year
Family Law Team of the Year
Simpson & Marwick
MCL Fund-raising Firm of the Year
Millar & Bryce Innovation Award
Simpson & Marwick; Highly Commended, Dundas & Wilson
Litigation Team of the Year
HBM Sayers; Highly Commended, Irwin Mitchell
Scottish Paralegal Association Paralegal of the Year
Claire Corbin, MBM Commercial
Hotel Missoni Private Client Team of the Year
Registers of Scotland Residential Property Team of the Year
Mackinnons; Highly Commended, McEwan Fraser Legal
The Law Society of Scotland In-house Legal Team of the Year
Scottish Water (Public Sector) and Standard Life (Private Sector)
Barr Printers Trainee Firm of the Year
Dundas & Wilson
Bank of Scotland Specialist Lawyer of the Year
Carol Fox, Fox and Partners
DX Firm of the Year
The Scotsman Managing Partner Award
Philip Rodney, Burness Paull & Williamsons
Lifetime Achievement Award