New jobs for Scots law graduates through a major UK/international law firm deciding to locate a global business support centre in Glasgow.
One might think it would be generally greeted as positive news for the Scottish economy, and in particular for law graduates struggling to find openings where they can use their degree qualification. However at least one legal magazine has reported that some senior Scots lawyers have (anonymously) expressed concerns at the move.
These appear to be based on the provision by Scottish Enterprise of regional assistance funding, and its alleged effect on the job market - enabling Ashurst, it is said, to offer subsidised higher salaries to the pool from which our own firms would wish to draw.
One thing those behind the new setup have expressly disavowed the intention to do is compete for clients in the Scottish market. The office is not being set up as a client-facing operation; it will be regulated only by the SRA and not by the Law Society of Scotland (as it would have to be in order to carry out legal work related to this jurisdiction); and so to the extent that any comments are prompted by considerations of competition for work in Scotland, they are not soundly based.
That apart, fears of labour shortages pushing up salaries are surely overdone. How many LLB graduates across the country are currently unable to find work that uses the knowledge they have learned? How many are completing the Diploma only to find that no one will offer them a training place? How many trainees are qualifying and finding a shortage of NQ positions? I am pretty sure that each of these categories alone could provide enough to fill the 30 "legal analyst" posts that Ashurst is initially offering, and that there will continue to be a surplus of candidates even if it makes its "stretch" target of 300 full time employees after five years (of which half are projected to be law graduates), that will enable it to claim the full support grant on offer.
The more dangerous approach would be to fail to recognise that we are now in the early stages of a major move by the big London-based firms to cut their overheads by moving work away from their expensive City headquarters to wherever it can be done most cost-effectively but at the same time efficiently in terms of providing the level of support the firms need. Belfast has already attracted two of the major players, but has a smaller pool of talent; if Scotland turns its back on this emerging market it will quickly turn to the north of England or further afield. Scotland is attractive because of its reputation for quality legal education; how would that be affected if we became marginalised in that way?
There are also those who regret the effect on existing London employees whose jobs will inevitably be moved elsewhere as a result. At one level we can sympathise; at another these developments are taking place because the firms are having to respond to market pressures. The jobs are relocating, and so the only question for Scotland is what share it can and should claim. The UK economy is said often enough to be skewed towards London and the south east; now that some rebalancing is actually taking place in the legal sector we should welcome that with open arms.