Maclay Murray & Spens

With its successful growth strategy for London, Maclays is making Scottish history

Scottish firm Maclay Murray & Spens does not need much of an introduction north of the border. But the firm's London office is still a baby compared with other City firms, explains chief executive Magnus Swanson.

Since it was launched more than a decade ago, Maclays' London office has grown steadily and today there are 10 full-time partners, offering a comprehensive service (both contentious and non-contentious) to corporate and institutional clients. It also encompasses a niche housing association practice, which is currently representing Cambridge Housing Society, Circle 33 and Granta Housing Society on the acquisition and development of land in Cambourne.

The firm recently bolstered the office with two lateral hires: Stephen Levinson, the former head of employment at KLegal, came on board last December; and Nick Bird, a commercial property partner from Allen & Overy, is due to join the London office in March.

“We've pushed London into a scale which I think takes us beyond where other Scottish firms have ever got to before,” says Swanson. “We've focused the London office not just on the traditional areas of company law and commercial areas that have been our strengths historically. We've always tried to have a strategy that looked at building an expertise or specialism, or to service a particular client need that we've identified, and the push into London has been along those lines.”

Despite the continued growth of Maclays' London office, some practice areas, such as competition and antitrust, continue to be serviced from Scotland.

Swanson also concedes that the firm's intellectual property (IP) and technology capability in London is not strong. “We don't have a strong IP and technology practice in London, as we do up North,” he says. “But again, we have one or two individuals who are coming through and we build in the big resource up North as needed.”

Maclays' London office has a number of high-profile clients, including Imperial College, JD Wetherspoon, John Menzies, London Underground and Reuters. Recently, it advised Targetfollow Group on the negotiation of facilities worth £193m to refinance its existing property portfolio and to fund an acquisition. Targetfollow's portfolio includes the flagship Central London properties 40 Bernard Street and Chatsworth House.

On the contentious side, the London office is advising the Tonstate Group on an insurance litigation against Hermes. It is also involved in an arbitration for Controlled Therapeutics (Scotland) and its US parent Cytokine PharmaSciences in relation to a dispute with FH Faulding and Co, an Australian pharmaceuticals company.

Maclays as a whole has experienced pretty strong growth between 1999 and 2003, with turnover rising by 25 per cent over 2002 to £33m, as shown in last year's The Lawyer 100. And although the corporate practice is still the big driver for the firm, the economic downturn has not caused too many difficulties – for example, there has been no redundancies.

Maclays covers nearly all practice areas, but Swanson says the firm would like to raise its game in financial services. “We think there are big opportunities for us to build on to our existing expertise, particularly in the insurance sector,” he says.

Financial services clients include Scottish Amicable and Scottish Widows, and it is on the back of this expertise that Swanson believes the firm can grow the practice area.