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Scottish model of the independent law firm has a lot going for it in the modern world


I recently saw Rush, a great film about the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda and their fight for the 1976 F1 championship. Both were world champs, but each did it in a different way. I won’t say who I preferred.

Recently, in writing a strategy paper for the firm, I identified five firms I admired and thought had got it right. Surprisingly perhaps, when I looked at them, each was differently configured. What they had in common was a strategy.

Whether in F1 or law, there is not just one recipe for success. No model is absolutely right or completely wrong. You have the best chance of success if you can identify your client base, understand what keeps them awake at night and devise a service that addresses these issues.

The firms that will not succeed are the ones that go to their metaphorical cupboard to create a recipe with the contents. If all that is in there is a can of sardines, a bottle of milk and a bag of sprouts the odds are they won’t combine into something that attracts paying customers.

Similarly, just because a law firm has offices in multiple jurisdictions it does not mean that it will serve the needs of the clients in these markets.

I spend a lot of my time meeting general counsel and listening to what they say about the service that we and our peers provide. What comes across loud and clear is that it’s horses for courses.

Where there is transaction that truly covers a multiplicity of jurisdictions (rather than being focussed on one and radiating out) they may go for an international firm. But where it is centred on one jurisdiction they will prefer the best of breed. They will go for the firm that really understands that jurisdiction, has the best sector knowledge, but most importantly has the local understanding and sensitivity to deal with the nuances. That will make the difference between being at the table and getting the job done. General counsel will select the firm that has done the deals rather than the one that has the most flags on the map.

While some international firms have coverage of a high level in all their offices, that is not always the case. In fact, I would hesitate to say that it is more often than not the situation. Their London office may be superb, but an office in a foreign city might have been acquired just because it was on the market – and why was it up for grabs?

An independent firm, on the other hand, can select the best firm in any international jurisdiction as its partner.

Which brings me to another benefit of independence. The best firms in every jurisdiction can refer work to us. We are not competitors.

I would never put down the approach followed by others. There are many structures and strategies that, if well-executed, will succeed.

But the independent Scottish model is a sound one, as has been demonstrated in the market.

(And, if you want to know, I’d go with Lauda, anytime.)