Independent law firms can compete

You don’t need to be a massive multi-national to work on an equal footing worldwide if you make sure you have the right people, says Allan Fraser

With the right sort of graduate trainees, independent law firms have no need to fear. Picture:  Ian Rutherford
With the right sort of graduate trainees, independent law firms have no need to fear. Picture: Ian Rutherford

THE landscape for legal practices in Scotland has changed markedly over the past few years. The downturn in the economy and the failure of the country’s two biggest banks has adversely affected the level of transactional corporate work.

It has also, to some extent, contributed to a number of high-profile mergers and acquisitions involving Scottish law firms, decreasing the number of independent Scottish firms on the corporate scene.

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However, with this has grown a perception that it is not possible for independent law firms based in Scotland to advise on complicated, cross-Border transactions. If you don’t have the global network of offices, how can you offer the same level of service as a firm which does?

At Dickson Minto, we would strongly challenge this view and maintain that it does remain possible for independent Scottish law firms to compete with their multi-national counterparts on an equal footing.

It comes down to the quality of the advice and service, which depends entirely on the quality of the lawyers giving it.

In order to maintain this quality, it is necessary to recruit the best legal minds. Scottish universities continue to attract high calibre law students and it is incumbent upon the Scottish legal profession to convince these graduates that they don’t need to move outside Scotland to access excellent training and top quality legal work.

The legal profession obviously does require certain academic qualifications but as a profession it is still very much a people business – this is a key and constant factor in the development of any legal firm.

Graduate recruitment is vital to law firms, to underpin the organic growth of the firm, as those trainees joining today are the partners of tomorrow. Law firms must create an environment where trainees receive comprehensive in-house training and we ensure each of our trainees has a spell in our London office too. The aim of any training programme should be to create first-rate solicitors with a solid base of experience and skills.

Our own training programme enables us to recruit and promote almost exclusively from within and to continue to grow organically – and remain as an independent law firm. We value our independence but feel this in no way detracts from our capabilities as a player in the global market. Our independence allows our lawyers to establish and maintain links with a network of leading firms and individuals around the world.

Through those connections, we can access the very best independent legal advice for our clients in overseas jurisdictions ensuring that we continue to receive instructions to act on high value international mergers and acquisitions.

Although we are a firm with a global outlook, we believe it is important to maintain a Scottish base and to give something back to the community in which we operate. As a firm and as individuals we do a lot to help charities and the arts, and we provide free advice to innovative social enterprises and organise forums for entrepreneurs and businesses to explore how the Scottish business community can work together to attract investment and improve its performance.

Scotland has a well-deserved reputation for education and inventiveness but it has always had a global ethos, illustrated by the creation and invention of many of the things that are used in everyday life across the world.

That background has created an outlook where it is completely normal and achievable to supply our skills and innovations across the world with electronic communication lending itself to this process allowing us to engage with clients and contacts wherever they are.

Through our links with Scottish entrepreneurs and corporates it is clear that there are many individuals, enterprises and businesses based in Scotland which continue to provide goods and services globally and compete on a worldwide basis.

There is no reason why that should not also apply to independent Scottish law firms.

• Allan Fraser is a partner at Dickson Minto and is responsible for graduate trainee recruitment