Scotland’s Burness rockets up UK 200 with Aberdeen merger

Scottish firms Burness and Paull & Williamsons are set to merge, creating a £37.6m firm.

Philip Rodney
Philip Rodney

The merger will go live on 1 December following a unanimous vote in favour of the combination by partners last Friday (5 October). The new firm will be called Burness Paull & Williamsons and will have turnover of around £37.6m – more than Shepherd & Wedderburn’s 2011-12 turnover – along with 400 staff, including 60 partners and 158 lawyers.

The deal reshapes the Scottish leaderboard, which was previously dominated by four firms – Dundas & Wilson, McGrigors, Maclay Murray & Spens and Shepherd & Wedderburn – that had offices in London as well as Scotland. Since McGrigors was taken out via its May 2012 merger with Pinsent Masons, Dundas is the largest Scottish firm in turnover terms followed by Maclays, with Brodies and post-merger Burness, which are both focused solely on the Scottish market, taking the third and fourth spots.

Burness chairman Philip Rodney will become chairman of the new firm, while Ian Wattie – currently Burness managing partner – will be the firm’s managing partner. Paul & Williamsons managing partner Scott Allan will become deputy managing partner while its chairman Gordon Buchan will sit on the board of the combined firm as a consultant.

According to Rodney, Burness first approached Paull & Williamsons with a merger proposal two years ago, but the latter was concentrating on its own strategy and not interested in combining with any other firm. Burness and Paull & Williamsons had been approached by other Scottish firms and London headquartered firms in the meantime, but six months ago decided to look again at a merger.

Rodney said the combination will make Burness Paull & Williamsons the only firm with equal coverage of what he termed Scotland’s ‘golden triangle’ – Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“The merger will create a firm with established offices of similar size in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow,” said Rodney. “The new firm will hold an unparalleled position in the Scottish legal landscape by virtue of the quality, depth, expertise and balance of its resources across the three cities […].

“Unlike many of our rivals, both firms have elected not to open a London office. We have instead concentrated on our markets, and succeeded in building a large base of international clients from Scotland.”

Burness, which is based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, is known for its funds and private equity practices while Aberdeen headquartered Paull & Williamsons has a strong oil and gas practice.

In 2011-12, Burness reported turnover of £24.3m, with average profit per equity partner of £368,000. Paull & Williamsons, which has 44 lawyers including 25 partners, posted turnover of £13.1m.