Change is essential, and for firms to offer the same service in the same old way is selling Scotland short
Economic turbulence has brought a sea-change in the market. For the first time I can recall, no Scottish-headquartered firm features in the Top 50 of The Lawyer’s UK 200.
The evidence speaks for itself: we have to be honest in our assessment and say that the traditional Scottish heavyweights have struggled to keep pace with the wider UK elite and the concept of a ‘Scottish Big Four’ no longer bears scrutiny.
Some commentators would argue that a strategic choice has emerged: focus on Scotland and concentrate on winning market share locally, or pursue growth by expanding your horizons. The latter view seems to have become unfashionable and somehow hubristic.
Our view, however, is that the two things are indivisible. We believe it is possible to be the Scottish market leader and be something more. In fact, it is impossible to achieve one without the other. Our recently announced deals with E.on UK and Balfour Beatty help to show that. Those deals – while different in several respects – offer us sole provider status on a broad range of work throughout the UK.
They show that some blue-chip clients are less likely to tolerate distinct, multi-firm panels for different jurisdictions within the UK at a time when efficiency is the watchword.
Second, we recently won a place on the panel of a prominent Aberdeen-headquartered business that employs several thousand people globally. In addition to advising them in the UK we have been given a mandate to support them in Asia Pacific, mainland Europe and the Gulf.
Many Scottish SMEs recognise that the pursuit of growth cannot be constrained by the border, and their best prospects lie in dominating the domestic market while pursuing growth overseas. They do not buy the proposition that having a broader horizon dilutes commitment to, or investment in, Scotland.
All this leads to the conclusion that, over time, firms that cannot offer more than a focus on Scotland will find themselves increasingly excluded from the top table. Also, without the best clients and highest quality work it will become harder to attract the country’s top lawyers.
Is it possible to survive and thrive as an independent firm in Scotland? Yes, of course. There are many fantastic businesses in Scotland that do not need a law firm with interests outside of the regional market, and plenty of City solicitors who will be happy to refer work to Scottish firms who pose no threat to them.
However, in a market crowded with quality lawyers, differentiation and being able to offer something more is key to remaining competitive. Whether that is national scale, international reach or a strong sector focus can be debated, but simply offering the same service in the same way is selling Scotland short.
Our commitment to Scotland is undiminished. We still employ more people here than any other law firm, are investing in top talent and have a focus on serving our Scottish clients. By being a part of something bigger, we have the resources to ensure we can respond more effectively to their needs.
There can be no doubt that the game has changed. The strategic choice is not whether to evolve, but how.