“DLA is a more serious proposition in Scotland now, since the management shake-up. It’d be foolish to underestimate them.”

This comment from an unnamed Scottish managing partner must be music to the ears of Mike Collins, one of DLA’s two managing partners north of the border. “I’m not surprised they’re beginning to say that about us,” says Collins, managing to avoid sounding triumphant. “I wouldn’t have expected it a year ago.”

Maybe not, but a lot has happened in just over a year. DLA, whether its Scottish rivals like it or not, is making an impact on the local market. Much of that is down to Collins.

DLA’s former group head of banking moved to Edinburgh in 2002 to head the Scottish management of the firm. Last year, he took over the Glasgow end of the business from former Bird Semple managing partner Gordon Hollerin (DLA’s Scottish merger partner in 2000) as Nick Seddon, former Birmingham managing partner, moved to head the firm’s Edinburgh office. A major recruitment drive has coincided with the two men’s arrival. Between summer 2002 and today, DLA Scotland has grown to 76 fee-earners. The growth in headcount is reflected in the growth in Scottish fee income. Between 2000 and 2003, fee income grew from £5.2m to £8.8m, an increase of 69 per cent. The target for 2004-05 is £15m, while estimated headcount for that year is currently 105.

Recently, a fair chunk of that fee-earner growth has come from Scottish heavyweight McGrigors. “We’ve got something of a McGrigors’ alumni association here,” deadpans Collins. Though with IT specialist John McKinlay, banking associate Peter Kelly, real estate lawyer Nick Taylor and soon-to-arrive banking partner (albeit via Clifford Chance) John McIver among the recent recruits from McGrigors, it is clear that Collins is only half joking. “None of them has a critical word to say about McGrigors,” points out Collins, “but I think they felt that there was a cleaner sheet of paper to work with here, less baggage and fewer old boys hanging around.”

Talking of old boys, Collins is the oldest inhabitant of DLA and is due to retire in April 2006. His career began back in 1968, when he joined Wilkinson Kimbers & Staddon for his articles. The firm later merged with Alsop Stevens on its way to becoming DLA, though by May 1988 Collins had jumped ship for an investment banking role at the Royal Trust Bank. He returned to DLA in 1994 as a banking partner and, aged 56, plumped for one last DLA-related challenge – to grow the Scottish practice and “fully engage” it with England.

By his own admission, Collins “doesn’t do much law”, and hasn’t for six or so years. So his management experience, in tandem with that of Seddon, has a free rein in Scotland. “There’d been no real investment in the Scottish practice since the merger,” says Collins, “though the two offices had been ticking over quite nicely organically. I had good connections in Scotland and came to Edinburgh to capitalise on that.”

Collins claims that DLA Scotland is very much at an early stage. Apart from real estate, which has 8 partners and 32
fee-earners in Scotland, the teams – construction, corporate, human resources, insurance, projects and technology, media and telecoms – are relatively small. “We don’t pretend they’re not,” says Collins, “but we’ll build on our small market share to fit in well with DLA. Our plans are evolutionary.” So does this mean that the oft-rumoured merger plans, be it with former suitor Burness or the troubled MacRoberts, are on hold? “There are no plans on the agenda to merge,” says Collins. “We can grow organically or through lateral hires. Burness didn’t take the opportunity that was presented to them, and I think that was a big mistake for them. They’re a high-quality business, but had they joined us, DLA would’ve been one of the top five firms in Scotland. If you have an opportunity to join DLA, you should take it.”

Burness partners may feel that Collins’ comment perfectly justifies why they chose not to join DLA. One thing is certain though, despite his longevity, Collins’ enthusiasm for DLA is undimmed.