Chambers UK assesses the strength of the legal profession in Scotland

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Michael Perkin of Chambers UK says the annual survey of the industry reveals that, in an era of unprecedented uncertainty, clients equate diversity with strong performance.

Brexit. A general election. A second independence referendum. All three may be looming large on the horizon, or perhaps not, depending – almost – on which day of the week it is.

As the legal sector, much like any other in Scotland, continues to move through uncharted waters, users of legal services are operating in an almost unprecedented era of uncertainty.

This is very much the message that has come through in research for the Chambers UK 2020 guide. In compiling the rankings for Scottish law firms and their lawyers, our dedicated team of research analysts – the largest of its kind – spoke to thousands of clients all over Scotland and further afield, seeking their views on the services they have received from their legal representatives.

While a significant amount of sophisticated work is still taking place, exemplified by the depth of law firm department and individual rankings in the latest edition of Chambers UK, the backdrop has changed over the last 12 months in terms of how clients are reacting to the changing landscape.

While Scotland has remained very much open for business, there is a sense of anxiety among clients, particularly those based abroad looking to make investments into Scotland.

Until the Brexit picture becomes clearer, deal flow is expected to quieten somewhat.

What remains the case is the requirement for law firms in Scotland to be agile in the advice they provide, ensuring their clients are well-positioned to react when a way forward is presented.

As such, collaboration has become a key talking point among clients, replacing a simple evaluation of the service levels that law firms provide.

An ability to collaborate with in-house teams, and a willingness to work alongside other firms, are now among the most important differentiating factors for law firms.

Clients are quick to point out that expertise alone is no longer enough. Conscientious staffing and responsiveness are obvious requirements, but so is a key understanding of the client’s business drivers. Clients expect their legal representatives to be an extension of their own values and philosophy.

With that comes the need for law firms to deliver in terms of diversity in the makeup of their teams. While there is clearly work still to be done across the legal industry, the statistics on gender diversity make interesting reading when considering the new edition of Chambers UK in the ranking of solicitors in Scotland.

Over the last ten years, the percentage increase of ranked female lawyers in Scotland has outperformed other parts of the UK.

On a city-by-city basis, the percentage of ranked female lawyers in Glasgow increased by 13 per cent, second only to Liverpool. In Edinburgh, we saw another significant percentage increase of 7 per cent. This shows that the message is getting across from clients that they equate strong performance on their behalf to a diverse team.

Chambers UK will enhance its coverage in this respect. As we recently announced at our UK launch event in early October, Chambers will be requesting diversity and inclusion-related information as part of the submissions process from the 2020-21 research cycles, and this data will now be assessed as part of the overall Chambers research and editorial.

More information about this in our diversity and inclusion statement, and the new edition of the Chambers UK rankings, can be found at www.chambers.com

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Scottish Legal Review 2019. A digital version can be found here.