Dundas & Wilson puts Scotland at the heart of UK-wide strategy

Dundas & Wilson is to refocus on growth of its Scottish base, turning away from the firm’s previous strategy of building itself out as a major UK firm.

Co-managing partner Allen Wernham said the firm would refocus on its Scottish roots, while honing in three core areas in London: real estate, construction and infrastructure, and restructuring.

Allen Wernham
Allen Wernham

“People come to us because of our reputation in Scotland. However, in the previous years, we were focusing on building the firm as a major UK firm and had not invested much in Scotland,” said Wernham. “We need to refresh and refocus our strategy to Scotland, because quality Scottish offering is what makes us stand out.”

The firm has kickstarted a recruitment drive for its Glasgow-based paralegal Legal Services Unit (LSU), effectively an in-house outsourcing team.

Wernham said the LSU had doubled the size in the first year of operation and it would be home to 20 paralegals by the end of the current financial year. He added that there are plans to install specialised services for some of the firm’s practice groups, with corporate being one of the first targeted areas.

“We’ve started recruiting for the unit this financial year and have taken initiatives to create more demand internally for its services,” said Wernham.

“Through the unit we are able to introduce fixed-fee, standardised processes, changing the traditional way work is done and changing lawyers’ behaviours. It allows everyone to have a personal view on the uniqueness of what they do and ensures consistency in routine work.”

The LSU was launched in May last year in response to a downward pressure on legal spend. In the first year the group provided the equivalent of 1,400 days of billable time, making the firm’s business more cost-effective, Wernham said.

The strategic rethink resulted in the firm’s decision to cancel its 24-place London vacation scheme this summer (6 June 2013).

“The past year is characterised by the changes in our businesses, there were some disruptions that will take some time to work through. But we’ve taken transformational steps to refocus the strategy of the firm to Scotland and London,” said Wernham.

Some of the main changes include a series of partner departures (12 November 2012) as well as a redundancy round that cut 30 jobs in April 2012 (2 April 2012).

The new management has also introduced other operational changes, such as improving internal communication and providing clarity and openness on the management’s decision-making and execution.

Wernham was voted in as co-managing partner last September alongside Caryn Penley and chairman Laurence Ward. They replaced former managing partner Donald Shaw and chairman David Hardie, who both stepped down part-way through their term in 2012 (8 March 2012).

Despite the business readjustments, the firm’s 2012/13 financial results remained on a downward trajectory (19 July 2013). Dundas & Wilson reported a 10.6 per cent fall in turnover from £54.5m to £48.7m and a 21 per cent drop in its pre-tax profit from £16.2m to £12.8m. Its profit per equity partner fell 22 per cent to £164,000 from the previous year’s £210,000.

“Last year continued to be a challenging one for firms in this market. A year of refocusing of the management and partners also inevitably had an impact on our figures,” said Wernham. “But we expect these changes and investments to bear fruit this year. We will look at more opportunities to deliver our strategy and and to keep an open mind on how we can do that.”