Split decision

Independence may benefit Scottish law firms, but they are not holding their breath

What do Scotland’s managing partners think about their nation’s bid for independence? The small clutch The Lawyer polled were almost all against the idea, although one says he does not want to go on the record about it for fear of it damaging his firm’s reputation. It seems nobody wants to risk being this generation’s John de Menteith when Mel Gibson inevitably makes a film about the vote.

But some suspect lawyers could do well, were Scotland to separate.

“We used to get a lot of referral work in M&A deals because there was a mystique about Scottish law,” remembers McClure Naismith’s executive chairman Robin Shannan. “English firms were too nervous to touch it, but they soon got smart and that stopped. So independence could be a way to re-energise the Scottish legal sector.”

Another law firm chief executive questions whether anything would change since the “Scottish government has for many years now been ‘putting a kilt’ on UK legislation”.

Whether the mystique will return following this year’s glut of consolidations between English and Scottish firms is doubtful, but even without it lawyers could gain, according to Dundas & Wilson co-managing partner Allan Wernham, who describes “the stage between a yes vote and independence when there would be a huge amount to be done on a UK-wide basis around the arrangements for separation”.

The vote is not until 2014, but with polls showing most against independence, it could all be academic anyway.