Semple Fraser: tip of the Scottish iceberg?

As Semple Fraser bites the dust, thoughts turn to health of others north of the border

On 6 March Scottish firm Semple Fraser informed staff that management had filed notice to appoint administrators. The news came a month after Cobbetts sought protection from creditors, before it was snapped up by DWF.

RSM Tenon has been nominated as the firm’s administrator.

The news broke a day after The Lawyer revealed that the firm was carrying out a strategy review, assessing all options.

Official statements aside, little comment has been forthcoming. The firm blames the economy, in particular the tough construction market. One source tells The Lawyer Semple Fraser was also stretched by burdensome property costs in Glasgow, estimating it was shelling out around £30 per sq ft.

Other sources in the Scottish market add that Semple Fraser had been knocking on competitors’ doors asking about a merger for some time. More recently, Semple Fraser’s three offices are known to have approached firms about taking them on independently. One source says the Glasgow office was discussing a tie-up with Maclay Murray & Spens, while the Edinburgh and Manchester offices were talking to Dundas & Wilson and Weightmans respectively.

Indeed, the chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, Lorna Jack, said in a statement that she understood that partners have “exhausted all options […], but unfortunately administration is now the only route available”.

Without wishing to sound dour, few will be surprised if more firms in Scotland find themselves in a similar situation later this year.