Ledingham Chalmers has only 29 partners worldwide, so how does it compete with the likes of Baker & McKenzie? The Scottish-based firm has established a reputation for expertise in the oil and gas sectors, capitalising on its relationship with Ramco Energy.
In the early 1980s, Ramco founder Steve Remp was one of the first businessmen to gain access to Azerbaijan. He enlisted the help of Ledingham Chalmers' senior partner David Laing and University of Aberdeen professor Alex Kemp to target the failing oil fields in Baku. Through the 1990s, Laing visited regularly, negotiating a place for Ramco in two consortia. The final disposal of the Azeri Chirag Guneshli (ACG) contract earned Ramco $150m (£102.87m) earlier this year.
Remp says: “It's been a long haul with many fraught moments along the way. Throughout the process our relationship with Ledingham Chalmers created value, culminating in the sale of our ACG interest.”
Ledingham Chalmers' Baku office now acts for International Finance Corporation, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and HSBC. Laing says: “We have three Azeri-licensed lawyers in Baku. We were the first international practice there. We were also the first Western European practice to set up in Istanbul.” Ledingham Chalmers does not practise Turkish law due to the protective nature of the Turkish bar, but it does act for a number of inward investors in the region. Benjamin Paine who joined the firm from Eversheds in July, manages the Istanbul office.
The firm also has an office in the Falkland Islands, which it established in 1988. Here, commonwealth-qualified practitioners are allowed to practise Falklands law.
“We were the first international practice in Baku. We were also the first Western European practice to set up in Istanbul.”
David Laing, Ledingham Chalmers
Despite Ledingham Chalmers' growing international success, retention of staff in the wilder parts of the UK is still a big challenge. Aberdeen houses 160 of the total staff, with just 35 in Edinburgh and 15 in Inverness. With the balance tipped so far north, Laing often encounters personnel with the urge to head south. He says: “We also have to face the predatory effect of the North Sea oil industry. Oil companies love to recruit our best people for their in-house teams.”
The firm's latest recruits are Gerard Kerr, formerly at JP Morgan and Union Bancaire Privee, who joined in May, and Paul McGoldrick, who was appointed consultant in April. McGoldrick was a senior lawyer with ExxonMobil but has to requalify before becoming a partner. Partner Allan Mackenzie left the firm earlier this year to set up on his own.
One of the largest deals that the firm has been involved in recently is Macdonald Hotels' creation of a new hotel investment group with Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland. The joint venture company subsequently acquired Heritage Hotels for £235m.
The firm's focus for growth in the UK is the oil and gas sectors, which provide work in core specialist services, property, corporate and employment. Clients include 3i, Dana Petroleum, Highland Energy, Morrison Development Partnerships, TotalFinaElf and Scottish Capital Group.
Other key areas are property development and the leisure sector.