National Express

McGrigors is desperate to shake off its image as a Scottish law firm, so a key priority for new managing partner Richard Masters will be to position the firm as a national player.

Having taken over the leadership of the firm from Colin Gray at the beginning of April, former corporate head Masters is at pains to ensure that the words “Scottish”, “firm” and “McGrigors” are never again mentioned in that order. A hard task, surely, considering just how Scottish the name McGrigors looks and sounds.

The fact that Masters is Irish might just help, given that his lilting accent helps soften the Scottish sound of the firm’s name. Perhaps more importantly, though, as a Belfast man Masters helped the firm set up its office in the city in 2000 – a launch he feels was vital if the firm is to be viewed as a UK-wide business.

“We are a genuinely national law firm, so it’s useful to have an office in Belfast,” says Masters.

By the same token, launching in Manchester earlier this year, McGrigors’ first foray into regional England should also help the firm in its bid to shake off the Scottish tag – although Masters admits it is still early days for the North-West base.

“We’ve got client relationships in the Manchester market and if we didn’t think we could be successful there we wouldn’t have done it,” he says, adding that at present the office only has one full-time partner in recent Addleshaw Goddard hire Nick Ogden. Infrastructure partner Peter Blackmore also divides his time between London and Manchester.

That said, Masters has reasonably ambitious plans for the office, with the aim of having six lawyers based in the North West by the end of this year.

But does a handful of lawyers in Manchester, a London base and small offices in Belfast and Aberdeen really ;qualify ;an ;Edinburgh-headquartered firm to give itself a national label? Masters thinks so.

“The big challenge is to reposition ourselves so that people stop thinking of us as a Scottish law firm,” he says. “We’ve got three offices in Scotland and are enormously proud of what we’ve done there, but we’ve grown well beyond that.

“Thirty five per cent of turnover last year came from London, but our key task is to get everyone else thinking of us as national. We have to really live it. We need to structure the business so we are not just saying we are national but are proving it.”

For Masters, growth in London will be key to the firm’s future development – but that could well prove to be easier said than done. McGrigors, after all, is not the only “Scottish” firm trying to establish itself on a national scale, with Dundas & Wilson, Maclay Murray & Spens and Shepherd and Wedderburn all intent on cracking the notoriously tough City market.

“In London we’re viewed as a Scottish firm so we’ve got to get bigger there,” explains Masters.

Organic growth is great for a firm keen to bring up a new generation of partners fully versed in its culture, and in the near-saturated Scottish market it is a sensible policy. In London, however, Masters is aware that in order to achieve any significant growth the firm will have to seek out a merger partner or partners.

“I would like to see the size of the London office double in the next three years,” he says. “We will therefore look for an acquisition or two, principally in London. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s about finding people who share the same values as we do and who want to be part of something that’s growing.”

With such an emphasis on the national focus of the firm, the challenge for Masters on a personal level will be to divide his time between all the offices.

“There will be a lot of travelling between offices and I will have a fixed couple of days a week in London,” he says. “At the moment I will probably be in Edinburgh for one day a week and Glasgow for the rest of the time.

“As Manchester starts to grow there will be a requirement to spend some time there, and Aberdeen and Belfast too.”

All this is not to say that McGrigors is turning its back on Scotland. On the home front, Masters reckons there will be a period of consolidation in the Scottish market in the coming years, and McGrigors could well be part of that.

“There might be consolidation in the Scottish market and it will be interesting to see just how it will come. We’re not looking to do that, but wouldn’t rule it out,” he adds.