Part of McClure Naismith's business plan for 2000-01 was to increase fee income by an ambitious 50 per cent and to double its staff by 2004. Managing partner Kenneth Chrystie proudly lights a cigar before telling me that last year was the Scottish firm's most successful year to date. Turnover is now around £10m, having increased by almost 20 per cent on last year. Profit per partner figures went up more than that, although Chrystie would not give details.
“But I must be honest,” he says. “We aren't as far forward with our recruitment as we would have wished. The reason for that is simply the enormous difficulty of finding the right people for our important areas of work. It's a very tight market at the moment. Our standards are high; we're pretty choosy and, inevitably, the good people are difficult to attract. You can hire bodies, but bodies are no good.”
Traditionally, the firm has grown -organically, with the exception of a merger in the 1980s with Andersen & Gardener. Even now, with growth being key, Chrystie has no intention of expanding if it sacrifices control: independence is paramount. But he is confident that by 2004 the firm will have met its recruitment target, even if it is the hard way. There are 24 partners and 83 other fee-earners across three offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and, most recently, London, which opened in 1991.
The main areas targeted for growth are commercial, intellectual property, construction law and banking. John Blackwood has joined as a partner from the Bank of Scotland to build those sides of the business. “We mustn't ignore the commercial property side and litigation, both of which are enjoying record figures for the last year,” says Chrystie. A number of new associates have joined recently from rival firms such as McGrigor Donald, Stephenson Harwood and PricewaterhouseCoopers' (PwC) legal arm PwC Legal.
“I put the success down to hard work”, Chrystie says. “We work very effectively as a team. We've also had some outstanding work over the past year – for one, the biggest ever management buyout in Scotland, Kyndall International Limited. It was led by Brian Megson and was worth £208m.”
The firm has also been responsible for the flotation of Murgitroyd, Scotland's foremost patent agent, resulting in a 30 per cent rise in its share price. Edinburgh-based partner Peter Wilson dealt with all the Scottish aspects of the recent Pernod Ricard purchase of Seagram for £5.5bn. The firm also acted for Norsk Hydro Ventures in relation to a £6m investment in Ocean Power Delivery and in the sale of Hydro Seafood.
New clients won in the past 18 months include Chivas Regal, Dynamic Earth, a top Scottish tourist attraction, and Livingston Football Club. There have been a number of significant PFI deals for companies such as Bowater Zenith and HPG.
In 2000, the firm invested £1m in a new IT system. Chrystie says: “Inevitably in a firm this size, there were one or two sceptics about what it would achieve for us, but I think everyone's extremely impressed. It's improved our ability to service clients and communicate with them.”