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Linda Urquhart OBE on the not so contrasting fortunes of McGrigors and Ross Harper
Two long established Scottish legal names have disappeared in the last week in very different circumstances. McGrigor Donald merged with Pinsent Masons and Ross Harper closed down, following the appointment of a Judicial Factor by the Law Society of Scotland. One firm’s staff face a new future as part of a global player, the other face the challenge of finding jobs in a very uncertain market.
Is the apparent contrast real, though? I think not. I suspect that the underlying issue behind each firm’s story is one of sustainability. The current legal market is in a period of change. The recession has delivered a double whammy to law firms. Clients doing less and willing to pay less for what they do (including legally aided work). Most firms had too much capacity going in to the recession and have taken steps to address that, but there is still overall overcapacity in the market. Consolidation has been talked about for a long time but has been slow in coming.
At the supply end, with the Law Society of Scotland’s recent decision, taken to protect trainees, to prescribe that they must be paid at least the national minimum wage, there are clear signs that the structural situation has not been addressed. Too many law graduates and Diploma holding students are being produced for the number of traineeships the profession can (or is willing to) sustain. I suspect this will concentrate traineeships even further into the hands of the medium to larger firms, where few will be trained in the generalist approach required in the High Streets of Scotland’s towns, creating a potential future gap in geographic provision.
Creative thinking will be needed to address all of these issues. Will this come from the profession or from outside, for example from the people behind some of the emerging ABS structures?