Comment: One of Scotland’s oldest law firms looks to future

Murray McCall is the managing partner of Anderson Strathern. Picture: Jane Barlow
Murray McCall is the managing partner of Anderson Strathern. Picture: Jane Barlow
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As we enter the final quarter of our financial year and with the firm’s annual board strategy day approaching, it’s a good time to reflect on where we’re at on the roadmap, take a look around Scotland’s legal sector and put plans in place for the coming year.

While we are geared up to announce healthy increases in both revenue and profits, what we’re most pleased about at Anderson Strathern is that we remain in a positive position as one of the few truly independent Scottish law firms.

Good quality commercial instructions during the period are underpinned by a team of lawyers and support staff that has been strengthened over the last year through lateral hires and promotions. Some of the themes we’ll be discussing this week are around people, in terms of attracting talent and retaining it, promotion of flexible working as a genuine business benefit, guiding our clients through volatile market conditions while coping with ever increasing regulation and compliance, and continuing on a sustainable growth path.

Anderson Strathern is one of Scotland’s oldest law firms and is one of the last remaining independents in the sector who possess real scale and we also retain an asset management arm, Anderson Strathern Asset Management (ASAM). For a legal firm that aims for pre-eminence not only in the commercial and public sectors but also looks after a significant number of private clients and families, we know that ASAM remains a good fit and we are very fortunate to have former Aberdeen Asset Management stalwart John Brett at the helm.

It is just over a year since Bruce Farquhar replaced Robert Carr as our chair and some of our senior hires, like our finance director Susanne Godfrey who joined after a long career at PwC, have added substantial experience to our leadership team. Bringing on young talent in the firm is important but we also appreciate how much value can be added by hiring more seasoned industry experts, with some of our successful additions being consultants who formerly worked as partners elsewhere.

It’s a couple of years since we last engaged in growth by acquisition – in 2016, we merged the operations of Glasgow-based Jeffrey Aitken and Edinburgh-based ADLP into the firm – and we’re actively speaking to a number of smaller firms that could lead to similar deals over the next six to 12 months.

When we look around the rest of the Scottish legal sector, it undoubtedly remains competitive and market forces mean consolidation is not going to go away in a hurry. In terms of leadership, there has been a changing of the guard at many of the leading firms and there is a good chance we’ll see more cross-migration of lawyers and teams before 2018 is out.

GDPR has seemed omnipresent this year and, like many business leaders, there’s a definite feeling we’re starting to get through the thicket. Our dedicated Brexit unit continues to advise clients on business and legal planning around what continues to be an opaque political pathway. What we’re also seeing at the coalface is that many clients are holding back from committing too much time, energy and expense to Brexit until the narrative becomes clearer.

Anderson Strathern’s story began in 1749 when Writer to the Signet, Crown Agent, co-founder of the The Royal Society of Edinburgh and leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, John Davidson of Stewartfield, established the firm. Fast forward almost 270 years and we believe that equality, diversity and inclusion amongst our ranks is a catalyst for the best and most enduring ideas and insights. While it would be a bit grand to term this a new kind of Scottish Enlightenment, it is a belief that shapes the way we do business and helps us to realise the ambitions of our clients and our people.

- Murray McCall is the managing partner of Anderson Strathern