Profits from the pipeline

It may be known historically as the granite city, but more recently, Aberdeen's fortunes have been oil-related both directly and indirectly. The oil industry and its international dimension is one of the aspects that differentiates it from Glasgow and Edinburgh as a legal marketplace.

And one of the larger firms, Ledingham Chalmers has also been distinguishing itself by setting up an office in Istanbul. It follows the move the year before to set up a legal presence and operation in Baku in Azerbaijan.

Partner David Laing stresses that these moves have been, in the main, reactive to particular opportunities, “as there is a certain synergy between Turkey and Azerbaijan, as well as a number of our clients being Turkish companies”.

The move was made on a springboard of contacts made in Azerbaijan's offshore sector as well as the growing inward investment into the area from Europe and the US. The firm will have a full-time Scottish lawyer who is also fluent in Turkish.

Laing adds: “Aberdeen is still quite active, although there are not quite as many deals, and it is still the oil sector which is the biggest single user of professional services, and not just legal.”

The other firms in the region are Paull & Williamsons, Peterkins, Stronachs, Iain Smith & Co, James & George Collie, and the break-off firm the Commercial Law Practice.

And the fairly recent interloper is City firm Cameron Markby Hewitt which is “essentially in a different category, although again, the driving force is a connection with the oil business”.

Paull & Williamsons' partner Brian Smith agrees that, as with other areas – the general commercial work such as corporate reorganisations providing work for lawyers – smaller oil companies are also becoming more active and taking the opportunity to buy into the established oil fields.

Although the city is separated from the other business centres, the law firms are aware of what everyone is doing. That includes the moves by accountancy firms south in Scotland as well as south of the border.

The consensus view is that it is “unlikely to happen – in the Aberdeen market which is a strange mixture of international oil centre and a close-knit business community, which is obviously smaller than Glasgow or Edinburgh.

“There is a resistance from the business community to be in an environment where by choosing an accountant they are also choosing a lawyer or another professional adviser, and vice versa. They want to keep that separate.”

Laing agrees: “The provincial market in Scotland is different, distinct and discrete.

“The housing market is up and down, almost seasonal, the agricultural scene is also going through its ups and downs.

“Generally, there seems to be enough work, albeit very much reactive and related to the North Sea.”