Climb every mountain

Morton Fraser’s Duncan Murray was the former managing partner of Robson McLean, is a Munro bagger (a climber of Scottish mountains), and is soon to be installed as Scotland’s next Law Society president. He clearly loves a challenge.

“I’m not somebody that likes to carp from the sidelines,” Murray says. “If there’s something there, I’d rather be involved in it. And I’ve very much enjoyed being involved in the Law Society.”

That involvement has, until now, meant spending approximately half his week on Law Society matters, the other half on client work. The proportion of the former will be significantly ramped up in May. “It’s a very substantial commitment, which makes balancing undertaking client work and fulfiling Law Society obligations quite tricky,” says Murray. But it’s obviously a challenge he relishes. Once installed, Murray will be at the front line of dealing with the key issues facing the legal profession in Scotland.

There are few issues more pressing than those raised by Sir David Clementi’s review of regulation in the legal market. “The big thing is Clementi, obviously,” he says. “Our analysis is that Clementi is driven by two things. The magic circle firms in England, which contribute in a major way to the UK economy, looking to get arrangements that better allow them to operate. And it’s driven by complaints about solicitors.”

Murray says that while firms south of the border have not particularly engaged with the Law Society of England & Wales, there is far better visibility in Scotland of the country’s top five, 10 or 20 firms. That said, Murray is still determined to fight their corner.

“We went to see David as he was then, and raised the question of how his review was going to operate with those firms that sought to operate both in England and Scotland. In the same way that the magic circle firms are dominant in the UK economy, the large Scottish firms are significant players in the Scottish economy. And that had not gained any particular visibility until that point at all. That’s a material issue, which, I suspect, will still not appear as much as we would like in his consultation paper.”

Murray says that the importance of getting it right cannot be underestimated, even though, on paper at least, Clementi is all about England and Wales. “There is a reality that there will be a degree of read across, even though it’s England and Wales,” says Murray. “And I think we’d be concerned that the two regulatory regimes become remarkably different. I think our executive would be concerned if there were significant differences in the arrangements that apply north and south of the border. There needs to be a level playing field in the way the regulations are provided. We anticipate making a very fulsome response to Clementi.”

Murray, a highly experienced litigator and former head of Robson Maclean’s civil litigation department before the merger with Morton Fraser, is accustomed to a fight. One of his highest-profile cases was acting for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in MacDonald v MoD, a case involving a homosexual serviceman, which was decided in favour of the MoD earlier in the year at the House of Lords. It also seems as though part of him is missing management and the battles that go with it. “It was part of the arrangement when I joined [Morton Fraser] that I would not be heavily involved in management,” says Murray. “I was contemplating standing for office at the Law Society at that point and that was a happy circumstance. I would hope to take a greater involvement in management at Morton Fraser on my return from the Law Society in 18 months time.”

As for the Munros, Murray bagged the last of those more than 10 years ago. “I started at school, took it up again around 1984 and finished on Ben Eigh. I’m not mad enough to leave the inaccessible pinnacle to the last. I got up it, let’s put it like that. A good climber got me up. He’s now climbed Everest. I have no plans to climb Everest.” Perhaps that’s because, come May, he has other mountains to climb.