Brief encounter: Burness

Burness has, along with many other firms throughout Scotland and the UK, had a strong period of growth in 2000 and is optimistic as to what 2001 has to bring.

But in other ways the firm differs from the crowd. Its managing partner Alan Stewart was the former head of legal at Clydesdale, and apart from a prolonged period spent as a partner in rival firm McGrigor Donald, has spent most of his time in commercial directorships and company boards.

His arrival at Burness in April last year brought about an increased focus on the importance of the client and a new management structure.

This new structure is in line with the move towards creating a corporate structure. While it differs to others which have bypassed partners, it hopes to free up time for fee-earners to concentrate on client work.

Stewart sees it as an appropriate structure, which will be overseen by a board consisting of chairman John Rafferty, Stewart himself as managing partner, finance director Martin Sweet and the four department heads: Ian Wattie, Philip Rodney, Alan Soppitt and John Miller.

Stewart will spend around 75 per cent of his time on the day-to-day running of the firm. The firm, it seems, will not be short of feeearners. Apart from Stewart, Burness has taken on three new partners in the last nine months: John Miller from Tods Murray & Spens to head the projects group, Andrew Fleming of Richards Butler for pensions, and Derek Currie, who came from DLA to expand the media and entertainment capability. The return of Peter Lawson is also on the cards after his two-year Freshfields secondment. The period has seen the number of partners grow from 28 to 33, and the firm is looking forward to building on this reasonably impressive level of organic growth.

Burness will need these extra partners if it is to move more aggressively into the intellectual property and pensions areas. Stewart has not ruled out the option of further additions to its group in these areas, or indeed the recruitment of an entire team should it be deemed necessary to take Burness in a particular direction.

Clients include Beat 106, Ladbrokes, BBC, NFU Mutual, Times Newspapers and Brewin Dolpin Securities, as well as strong relationships with City firms such as Freshfields, Herbert Smith and Rowe & Maw.

Stewart sees the rating of firms in terms of size as unfortunate, as Burness' ranking of fourth or fifth is not in line with how the firm sees itself. From talking to Stewart, it is clear that the firm believes itself the equal to any Scottish firm, from McGrigor Donald to Dundas & Wilson. How true this is in the marketplace needs to be clarified, since with the exception of a number of highly publicised deals, it lacks the high profile of its nearest rivals.