Leading Scottish legal firms have combined to launch a venture designed to increase global opportunities for all practices with ambitions to branch out

A joint initiative has been launched to promote Scotland’s legal services in the international market.

Scottish Legal International (SLI) has been set up by a group of leading commercial law firms, in partnership with Scottish Development International (SDI) and the Law Society of Scotland, to help sell the country’s legal sector to overseas markets.

Scottish-headquartered firms Brodies, Burness Paull, Harper Macleod, MacRoberts and Shepherd & Wedderburn, along with global practices CMS, Dentons, DLA Piper and Pinsent Masons, are behind the move, but any practice with ambitions to extend its reach overseas is welcome to contact SLI to discuss its needs.

The brainchild of SDI’s Jim Mason and Carl Gardiner, SLI aims to highlight the significant international work already being carried out by Scottish solicitors and encourage expansion by marketing Scottish legal services as an essential component of successful international trade and investment. The venture will help solicitors develop new business opportunities through SDI’s knowledge of international markets and business networks, including the Globalscot community, a global support network for Scottish businesses looking to access new markets overseas.

Joining forces

The Society has been working with SDI for a number of years on promoting Scotland’s legal sector internationally, and both organisations will use their international connections to support SLI.

The legal sector is already worth £1.5 billion annually to the Scottish economy, employing 20,000 people, many of them highly skilled. Professional and financial services as a whole is also the second largest sector for Scottish exports, behind food and drink, but there is a shared belief that more can be achieved by working in partnership.

Paul Carlyle of Shepherd & Wedderburn, who chairs the SLI steering committee, told the launch event in the Signet Library on 21 February that while some firms already have established and successful export practices, “we have discovered as other sectors have that the competitive environment in our local market is perhaps less than helpful”.

Scottish Financial Enterprise is perhaps the most analogous example of what SLI hopes to achieve, but the food and drink sector is also good at working together to promote Scottish goods and services internationally.

While the legal profession represents “a success story for the economy in Scotland, something we should be proud of and shout about”, Carlyle observed that “to continue to grow, most firms are increasingly having to look beyond the UK, to win clients and business from elsewhere”.

First year’s work

During this year SLI will carry out further scoping work – drawing among other things on feedback from potential client firms – on the package it may be able to offer. Already planned are “a modest but hopefully useful programme” of practical assistance for law firms at selected business development events around the world that firms regularly attend, and later this year a series of training initiatives focused on helping both senior and junior lawyers with their approach to business development internationally. In addition it hopes to establish a flow of information to firms on the many opportunities that Scottish Enterprise and SDI come across internationally. 

The focus is on helping legal business in Scotland extract the maximum benefit from the investment it is already making in international business development. “We are not out there to replace that brand but to help the strong brands that we have,” Carlyle emphasised.

He added: “Perhaps most importantly, in SLI we have created a real visibility and recognition of the value of the commercial legal industry as a business sector in its own right” – connecting it with Government, development agencies, and the UK Government’s “Legal services are GREAT” project to sell UK legal services abroad, and creating the opportunity both to promote the unique nature of the Scottish system, and to promote our firms’ own projects in parallel.

Choose Scotland

Paul Lewis, managing director of SDI, added that his organisation also wants more companies to choose Scotland as a place to make their own investments. SDI increasingly finds that companies that do so already have some connection with Scotland, such as through study at university, or research, or a connection with our financial, professional and legal services. He urged firms with an international reach to help encourage more investors to come to Scotland – which doubtless is a large part of their strategy.

For the Scottish Government, Minister for Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing drew on her own 10 years as one of a number of Scottish solicitors working in Brussels. “We were from a small country but very much up to the job of adapting; we were hardworking; we had talent; we had a lot to prove; we got quite a good reputation, and were regarded as an asset to the various firms we worked for.

“So with that experience, I am confident that what SLI is trying to achieve is very achievable.”



The Author
For further information about the initiative, including details of the first networking event in London on 28 March, please contact Katie Hay, head of International at the Law Society of Scotland (e: katiehay@lawscot.org.uk).  
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