Scotland’s lawyers have made their mark in business

Property: Scottish law firms have expertise in the commercial sector. pictures: SHUTTERSTOCK
Property: Scottish law firms have expertise in the commercial sector. pictures: SHUTTERSTOCK
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Special focus with Legal 500.

The legal profession supports Scotland’s business community in many varied ways. Legal professionals are involved in all aspects of business from the day-to-day minutiae of corporate life to the headline-grabbing mergers and acquisitions (M&A).

Scotland’s legal profession is held in high regard both at home and around the world. Each year, the Legal 500 reviews the performance of the sector and ranks the top players using detailed research.

The Legal 500 contacts over 250,000 clients, asking for feedback on the lawyers they instruct. The team has regular contact with commerce and industry throughout the year and interviews are conducted with specialist lawyers in each subject area.

The result is an authoritative directory of regional heavyweights.

Vision Scotland was given exclusive access to the rankings and here, the day after they were first published, we take look at who is leading the way in supporting Scottish businesses.

Legal 500 2016 notes that while the UK economy is growing, Scotland is lagging behind and the overall pace slowed in 2015 with GDP growth falling to 2.2 per cent from 2.9 per cent in 2014.

Aberdeen proved its resilience while the rest of Scotland suffered the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis but the now depressed environment in the oil and gas capital has led to disposals of non-core assets, refinancings and restructurings.

Employment specialists and insolvency teams have had their work cut out for them as companies in the North-east continue to economise.

Industry body Oil & Gas UK estimates that 65,000 jobs have been lost in the sector since early 2014.

Across the rest of the UK, service sectors such as food and drink, hotels and leisure, financial services and commercial property, are thriving.

Corporate and commercial transactional activity has been vibrant, particularly in high-growth tech start ups with Edinburgh-based FanDuel and Skyscanner leading the way.

Brodies, which is ranked tier one in corporate and commercial for Edinburgh and Glasgow, is recognised for its competent handling of a full spectrum of notable and high-value matters for private and listed companies, high-net-worth individuals and third sector clients.

The addition of Karen Fountain, who joins Brodies from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, has bolstered the team’s investment funds capabilities.

Also in tier one for Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland, Burness Paull’s projects have included private equity investments and equity capital markets transactions.

Notably, Mark Ellis advised KKR, as lead investor, on the $275 million Series E equity fundraising by FanDuel.

From Burness Paull’s Aberdeen office, Ken Gordon assisted Simmons Private Equity with its acquisition of HL Technologies.

Another key player, Shepherd & Wedderburn handles work across various sectors including energy and natural resources, financial services and real estate.

The firm’s Stephen Trombala assisted FanDuel with its $275m equity financing.

Active internationally, CMS handles M&A, private equity and equity capital markets transactions.

Highlighted in the Legal 500 is David Davidson’s work on behalf of the non-institutional shareholders of Worldmark International Holdings in the company’s £126m sale to Canadian CCL Industries.

CMS’s oil and gas clients include private equity houses and oilfield service companies

Dickson Minto’s focus for 2015 was acquisitions and investments for clients headquartered in the US, including Charles River’s $212m acquisition of Celsis International.

Barry McCaig heads up the corporate and commercial team at tier-one-ranked Pinsent Masons.

The firm has a strong presence in the North-east with Rosalie Chadwick and others assisting Total with the £585m sale of its North Sea midstream business to North Sea Midstream Partners. Other notable clients include KCA Deutag Drilling and Statoil.

Topping the corporate tax table in tier one are Brodies and Maclay Murray & Spens.

Brodies’ Alan Barr comes recommended for his handling of the full range of business and personal tax issues.

Gwen Souter’s team at Maclay Murray & Spens manages the tax planning and structuring aspects of Scottish and UK-wide corporate deals and has recently assisted clients with commercial property transactions which fall within the SDLT – which is no longer applicable in Scotland – or new land and buildings transaction tax (LBTT) regimes.

The two firms are ranked top again in EU and competition with Brodies’ Rod Lambert and Roger Cotton recognised for assisting Abellio with obtaining European Commission merger clearance in connection with the ScotRail franchise awards in 2015.

Burness Paull dipped its toe in the building and construction waters, with John Kennedy advising Stewart Milne Group on complex financing related to the proposed development of 3,000 homes at Countesswells in Aberdeen.

The firm is tier one for banking and finance and Legal 500 notes that Bank of Scotland benefited from Jonathan Heaney’s advice with the £30m financing to a consortium of investors for the acquisition of Tulloch Homes.

Also in banking and finance, CMS acted for HSBC and Bank of Scotland as lead arrangers in a £210m financing to Miller Homes and certain subsidiaries.

For insolvency and corporate recovery, Brodies, Burness Paull, Pinsent Masons and Shepherd & Wedderburn are top of their game, ranked tier one.

Brodies provides a full service to insolvency practitioners, funds, banks and public sector clients while Burness Paull has a strong track record of taking on some of the most complex and high-value insolvency litigation in Scotland.

Pinsent Masons has been advising a range of stakeholders in distressed businesses including clearing banks, directors and distressed investors.

Specialists in employment law can help businesses day to day to ensure that contracts and company handbooks are compliant and advise on matters such as unfair dismissal, redundancy and workplace discrimination.

Anderson Strathern is noted for its “excellent” practice with Alun Thomas recognised for his contentious advice to educational institutions.

In 2015, Clyde & Co’s Stephen Miller represented Glasgow City Council in a large equal pay case.

Morton Fraser handles a full range of work including difficult discrimination claims and trade union issues for both private and public sector clients.

Across the board, law firms and Scottish businesses alike faced yet more political uncertainty ahead of the Brexit vote in June. Some sectors saw little effect on their services and transactions although commercial property teams reported some hesitation from clients with deals structured around certain conditionality with regard to the EU referendum.

• This article appears in the Autumn 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.