It isn't too surprising that some Scottish solicitors at least are uneasy at the trend of so many of our mainly larger firms giving up their distinct identity to become part of a UK or international practice. We know what often happens to industry in foreign hands, plant being opened and closed in different parts of the globe with those at local level generally able to do little to affect the course of events.
It seems unlikely, however, that our legal firms will find themselves being treated in this way. The pattern that has emerged is that the outsider firm sees the Scottish market as attractive in its own right, and sometimes also as a location for transferring some of its own work to where costs are lower; while the merging Scottish practice has an opportunity to export its skills to a much wider market than it could hope to on its own. Both aspects should have benefits for legal work here.
So, while we can expect the practice leaders who brought about the merger of Dundas & Wilson with CMS to talk up the prospects for the combined firm, there does appear to be good reason for confidence that it will prove beneficial to their Scottish-based lawyers going forward. Aberdeen-based lawyers from different firms are already in demand to deal with oil and gas-related transactions in other parts of the world, to give but one example, and if a merger increases such opportunities, that is good for the Scottish profession and the Scottish economy.
Saying that is not to ignore the successes of our home-based firms who have managed to achieve growth even through the recent lean years, where many others have struggled. Clearly they are able to present a credible offering to substantial clients in a highly competitive market, and long may they continue to do so. But if they, or any of them, were to decide to follow the cross-border merger route, would that diminish the prospects for the profession as a whole?
The merger trend does carry implications, not least for the Society, which is well aware of the risks of significant sources of revenue moving to be regulated elsewhere. But it is the health of the profession as a whole that will have most bearing on its fortunes, and on the evidence to date, it does not look as if we are suffering from the tie-ups that have taken place.