Dundas partner exits pile up as CMS merger looms

Dundas & Wilson has seen another six partners exit the firm ahead of its proposed merger with CMS Cameron McKenna, including former CMS real estate disputes founder Andrew Walker.

Walker leaves a little more than a year after joining the firm in September 2012 and announced his intention to resign before the impending merger. His destination is as yet unknown.

He is followed by construction partner Siobhan McCloskey-Oudahar, who is joining the Department of Transport and employment partner David Walker who joined Morton Fraser’s Glasgow office on Monday (6 January).

Environment, health and safety chief Mark Brumwell, employment partner Mandy Laurie and former Bank of Scotland partner Allan Wardhaugh have also quit.

Their departures follow that of former chairman David Hardie (7 January 2014) who retired from the partnership at the end of 2013, six months after he was succeeded by Laurence Ward as chairman.

His exit from the managerial role coincided with that of former managing partner Donald Shaw, who stood down in March to be replaced by Caryn Penley and Allan Wernham as co-managing partners (8 March 2012).

Management positions are falling into place for the newly merged CMS and Dundas & Wilson, with Penley becoming the only Dundas partner to co-opted onto the CMS board.

Sources close to the firm expect Wernham to take up a role as Scottish head of real estate. CMS Cameron McKenna senior partner elect Penelope Warne will be the lead partner in Scotland. Warne led the merger deal with CMS managing partner Duncan Weston and energy partner Stephen Millar.

A source said: “Caryn is good with numbers and will have her finger on the pulse of the management information. Allan was not in the same league”, but, the source commented, she was “not a person with vision who is far sighted with leadership”.

The proposed £277m tie-up merger due to go live in May 2014 (12 December 2013) will see the firm named CMS Cameron McKenna Dundas & Wilson in Edinburgh and Glasgow for a transitional period and the Dundas brand dropped in Aberdeen and London. 

The combined firm will have over 830 partners and 5,600 employees operating in 57 offices in 31 countries across the world, with revenues of circa €900m according to the firm.

Sources have raised doubts about the future of the London office. The office’s real estate and support functions are believed to have been appealing to CMS Cameron McKenna, particularly clients like Scottish Widows, Scottish & Southern Energy and the National Grid who have a synergy with the Scottish market.

But one source said: “Real estate and the support function are key in London but the rest you could probably completely cut off and it wouldn’t make any difference”.

At its peak in 1998 the London office had a headcount of 200 but only 164 remain now.

Sources also point to the difficulty in merging the two firms’ equity structures. CMS Cameron McKenna currently boast a three-tier remuneration structure from salaried to full equity while Dundas & Wilson recently moved to a two-tier system, promoting 10 associates to fixed-equity partner and asking them to put up £50,000 each.

Negotiations are under way as to how to combine the two but one source said: “It’s a mass recruitment, not a merger.”

The amount Dundas partners have been taking home has been steadily dropping for several years –in 2012-13, the highest-paid partner took home £266,248, compared to £649,900 in its heyday of 2008.