Ashurst has its reasons for choosing Glasgow

There’s more to Ashurst’s Scottish venture than a quest for the lowest cost

Ashurst managing partner James Collis realised Glasgow was the right option for the firm’s ‘northshoring’ base when he travelled up to Scotland for a recce trip in January. The UK was close to the height of its snow epidemic, and planes were being grounded as often as an unruly teenager.

Collis had flown over the border the previous day, but a return journey was looking unlikely. Yet thanks to the great invention that was the British railway network, he was able to hop on the train to London and avoid the aviation chaos. This would not have been possible if he had been in Northern Ireland – another location Ashurst had considered following moves there by Allen & Overy and legacy Herbert Smith.

Glasgow, as Collis found out, is also much better connected to London than Belfast or offshore locations, despite not being quite as cheap. But then the firm will get some £1m-plus from Scottish Development International (SDI) if it hits its current target of 150 full-time equivalent (FTE) roles in the office within a year and £2.4m if it manages 300 in five years.

The 150 will be 120 support staff and 30 legal analysts recruited locally to handle document review for disputes and finance. This does, of course, mean a bunch of Ashurst’s 350 FTE jobs in the London back office are under threat.

The project was managed by Mark Higgs, an ex-Ashurst lawyer who is now head of strategic projects. The base itself, launching later this year, will be headed by senior ex-Dundas & Wilson partner Mike Polson, who spent a year on secondment to Ashurst in 1991 while a junior associate at Dundas, working with Adrian Clark in corporate and Nigel Parr in competition and getting to know future senior partners Geoffrey Green and Charlie Geffen.

Ashurst will neither be carrying out Scottish law nor competing with local firms, but the fact that Polson has been brought in shows this is a serious outpost for real law to be done, although Polson’s role is purely management.

“You’ve got five very respected universities educating a large number of law undergraduates contributing to a pool of graduates and a very long and prestigious legal industry,” says Collis of the Scottish market.

Ashurst could have gone for something much cheaper, but there is more to this move than that