Scotsman Legal Review: A year of change

New legislation across the board combined with the referendum on EU membership in June certainly made for an exciting 12 months for Scotland's lawyers.

The full impact of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act is still unfolding in rural Scotland. Picture: Shutterstock
The full impact of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act is still unfolding in rural Scotland. Picture: Shutterstock

A degree of political uncertainty pervades as law firms find themselves in the challenging position of being able to offer little more than an educated guess with regard to potential changes to legislation which could impact their clients following the Brexit vote.

That said, business has, generally speaking, resumed at a steady level as everyone waits for a clearer picture to emerge.

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Deal numbers may be down in some sectors but we can’t pause for politics for ever.

“Scotland is good at dealing with change, partly as a result of our experience with devolution,” says Shuna Stirling, head of corporate and commercial at Brodies.

“What will happen in the global markets and in Europe it’s difficult to say, but I suspect for the year ahead that in the deal community things will continue to happen with perhaps a few bumps along the road at key points in the Brexit calendar.”

In The Scotsman’s Legal Review, we speak to the leading firms and key players in the legal profession as they highlight the latest developments in their areas.

In consultation with Chambers UK and the Legal 500, we analyse the progress of the sector and provide an insight into the law in Scotland.

Food and drink and technology are emerging as key areas occupying dealmakers in terms of mergers and acquisitions, while the North-east is coming to terms with an oil price which is showing no sign of a dramatic upturn.

The renewable energy sector is facing its own challenges in the form of sudden subsidy cuts and the full impact of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 is still unfolding for the agricultural community.

Robert Scott-Dempster, head of land and rural business at Gillespie Macandrew, describes it as “a sector in transition”.

Employment specialists, meanwhile, are keeping busy with holiday pay which became a talking point as employers received more clarity on what should, and should not, be included in the calculation of a week’s pay.

Social media continues to keep intellectual property experts busy as they advise clients on brand protection and in the third sector, a new targeted fundraising regime was introduced earlier this year with a renewed emphasis on good governance.

Family lawyers continue to handle a steady stream of divorce and separation cases, and it seems clients are becoming more savvy when it comes to protecting their assets.

Inquiries regarding cohabitation and prenuptial agreements are on the rise.

The new Queensferry Crossing and the Aberdeen Western Peripheral route remain among Scotland’s largest infrastructure projects, although as work on these draws to a close, housebuilding is predicted to take over as the driver for construction growth.

Corporate tax lawyers were kept busy with the new Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT).

In corporate crime, the spotlight continues to shine on bribery matters following the introduction of the Bribery Act 2010.

The legislation has led to a much greater awareness in corporate management around issues of corporate crime generally.

The past year has brought with it its share of moves and mergers, continuing the trend of consolidation.

Most recently, the UK’s biggest ever legal combination was announced between CMS UK, Nabarro and Olswang, creating the world’s sixth largest law firm by lawyer headcount and sixth largest firm in the UK by revenue.

The merger is due to complete on 1 May, with the combination set to deliver benefits for CMS’s Scottish clients.

“Since the 2014 combination between CMS and Dundas & Wilson, a firm with a 250-year legacy in Scotland, we have grown our practice north of the border,” says Caryn Penley, CMS’s executive partner in Scotland.

“On the back of this latest development, CMS continues to invest in Scotland.

“As ever, our focus remains firmly on our Scottish-based clients, helping them fulfil their business ambitions, whether these lie within Scotland or across the world.

“This new combination will deliver direct benefits for them as it gives the firm additional strength across key Scottish industry sectors including energy, financial services, infrastructure and projects, life sciences and healthcare, real estate, technology, [and] media and communications.”

Brodies continues to operate as one of the largest independent, indigenous Scottish firms with a solid reputation across a range of disciplines.

Turcan Connell remains a key player in the private sphere, while MacRoberts and Gillespie Macandrew announced a successful year with turnovers up by 10 per cent and 6.7 per cent respectively.

In its results for the year ending 30 April, Shepherd & Wedderburn announced its third consecutive year of growth with revenue up by more than 11 per cent to £53 million.

In April, Anderson Strathern announced a merger with Glasgow-based solicitors Jeffrey Aitken as the firm continues to grow a number of its teams.

On the advocates circuit, James Wolffe QC of Axiom Advocates was appointed Lord Advocate in May, replacing Frank Mulholland QC who stepped down following the Scottish parliamentary election.

Founder and chief executive of Core Solutions, John Sturrock, continues to build on his international reputation as a major player in the field of mediation.

The undercurrent of uncertainty aside, life goes on in Scotland’s legal sphere.

This article appeared in the Scotsman’s annual legal review 2016.

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