Multinational mergers

Use the word 'merger' in Scotland and you will receive a funny look, particularly if you are speaking to a lawyer

This is not because Scottish firms are now so crazed by devolution that they do not want to let outsiders tamper with their legal system, but is thanks to a piece of legislation that forbids Scottish firms from forming multinational partnerships.
So while McGrigor Donald solicitors working in the firm's London office are perfectly within their rights to tell their chums about the recent merger with KLegal, employees in the firm's Scottish branches are legally required to refer to the deal as an 'association'.
Yet the 'm' word has been used with reckless abandon in recent months by those attempting to describe this most recent Anglo-Scottish alliance, including the Scottish press, which ought to know better, according to one exasperated Scottish Law Society spokesperson.
Many Scots fear that the ban on multinational partnerships and the difficulties this creates is not only stunting the growth of the country's legal practice, but is also deterring foreign firms from setting up their stalls in the Scottish legal market. But while a working party from the Scottish Executive chews over the arguments for change, firms with offices on either side of Gretna Green have simply to like it or lump it, while making sure that they play by two sets of rules at all times.
Given the flurry of cross-border activity in recent years, which has seen associations/mergers springing up between, among others, DLA and Bird Semple and Dundas & Wilson and Andersen Legal, it is no real surprise to hear of the occasional hiccup in the interjurisdiction translation process.
Yet, apart from the obvious differences in areas such as property and criminal law, firms with a foot in both camps claim that the cross-border issue is really nothing to get worked up about.
McGrigors, which had offices in London and Brussels long before KLegal came on the scene, has “been dealing with this for years”, according to Christine McLintock, the firm's knowledge management partner.
One way around the problem is to put solicitors through the conversion tests that allow them to practise in England. This happens at McGrigors “if it's good for business”, says McLintock. One area where it is a distinct advantage is at the firm's Edinburgh-based technology unit, where 90 per cent of the lawyers are dual-qualified and 70 per cent of deals are done under English law.
Scots who take the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (QLTT) have to pass papers in professional conduct and accountancy skills as well as in property law, which sounds pretty painless but is not without its pinch – a minimum of £1,000 per person. Crossing the border the other way is just as hard on the pocket, with lawyers who qualify in England, Wales or Northern Ireland expected to sit the Law Society of Scotland's Intra UK Transfer Test.
DLA, which merged with Scottish firm Bird Semple in 2000, actively encourages and sponsors any member of staff who wants to qualify in another jurisdiction, but would “never force anyone to become an English lawyer”, according to Michael Silver, DLA's national recruitment manager.
Other canny Scottish firms have managed to reach further afield without leaving the comfort of their own country. Golds, a Glasgow-based firm which claims to offer English advice at Scottish prices, boasts that it employs “Scottish lawyers who speak English” and has even gone so far as to publish 'cross-border' glossaries which explain the differences between the two legal systems.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that, not surprisingly, the number of Scottish-qualified lawyers who are moving to London offices is far greater than the number of English lawyers who take the tests to qualify in Scotland. It is clear, then, that the somewhat ridiculous rules governing multinational alliances have not hindered Anglo-Scottish alliances. But, if only for appearances' sake, it is surely time to clarify the position.
jennifer.currie@centaur.co.uk