The view has been current for some time now that the Scottish legal sector is ripe for “consolidation” – there are too many lawyers, firms are struggling for work, and the result will be a spate of mergers with consequent shakeout of jobs.
Business generally is not exactly booming, and we can read in the press of some well known names – City of London as well as Scottish firms – who find themselves forced to reduce headcount in some practice areas, whether by redeployment or redundancy.
But the mergers that have recently made news in Scotland, featured in our April issue, don’t appear to be defensive moves of that type. Of course those involved will talk up their prospects. There is no denying, however, the sense of excitement that shows through when they speak of their motives and the opportunities they see resulting. And whether or not there is room for all the legal and other staff in the combined firm, the overall picture is definitely one of growth and new possibilities.
In some cases, as we know, it means the loss of well known and long respected practice names to, in effect, foreign takeovers. In industry that leads to worries about loss of Scottish control and vulnerability of Scottish jobs. That seems unlikely in the legal sector. The firms we talked to spoke more in terms of growth alongside and in response to corporate client ambitions, and leveraging new work into Scotland by reaching out to broader horizons. We may take pride in our separate legal system, but the legal market is becoming ever more integrated.
Even at the small practice level it can be seen that merger can bring new strengths and opportunities, especially given the potential that IT provides for firms to combine even when geographically at a distance.
Of course not everyone wants to merge, especially those who prize their independence as sole practitioners. There are also those who have done very well simply through organic growth, and our interview in the same issue with Harper Macleod’s Lorne Crerar reveals something of the strategy behind his firm’s success. Good luck to both groups.
The message, however, looking at the context of the changoing legal market and what is happening in the profession, is that concluding a deal may well be a sign of strength rather than weakness. Whatever your practice, the time is ripe for bold and strategic thinking.