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Sights on Scotland

Sights on Scotland

Lawyers Weekly

The home of kilts and bagpipes is often overlooked in favour of its English neighbour, but it holds many surprises for Aussie lawyers looking for a change of pace.

What’s not to love about Scotland? The country offers a serene backdrop with its beautiful mountain wilderness, green slopes and historic castles. This, combined with its kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing, haggis-eating stereotypes, creates a culture that can only be described as welcoming.

It is for this reason, among others, that Scotland attracts many tourists each year, with some even taking up residence in the land known for housing William Wallace and the Loch Ness Monster. But with Brexit still looming after last year’s debacle, some may be uncertain about relocating to Scotland.

Those who do try their luck, however, are often met with surprising opportunities, including the legal professionals who take the chance.

By way of example

One law firm that has taken advantage of the opportunities Scotland presents is Ashurst.

In August 2013, the firm decided it would open a Glasgow office as “a centre of excellence and innovation to drive change within the firm globally”.

According to Ashurst's Nick Coffey, the two offices are worlds apart. 

“The Glasgow and Sydney offices are different in a number of key respects,” Mr Coffey says.

“Our Glasgow office opened in 2013 specifically as a centre of, and for, innovation in the legal market, so that its focus is on the provision of large-scale matter management services to clients of our offices globally, rather than the types of specialist legal services typically provided by a traditional law firm office.

“As a result, the Glasgow office has a much flatter structure than the Sydney office and a younger workforce – there are only two partners in the Glasgow office, which is both a blessing and a curse! Being made up mainly of Millennials, there is also a greater work-life balance than would usually be encountered in any traditional legal office.”

Mr Coffey is originally from Sydney but is now based in Ashurst's Glasgow office, which he believes will help his career substantially in the long run.

“There are opportunities in the Glasgow office for greater client contact and matter management at an earlier stage of a young lawyer’s career, which we know to be desirable to the Millennial workforce,” he says.

“As a senior lawyer, overseeing this type of work has added to my own knowledge, experience and expertise in the use of technology in law firms today.

“Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, working in the Glasgow office also means having an ability to understand, at a grassroots level, how the international firm operates in order to achieve client-focused efficiencies. This will inevitably enhance a lawyer’s potential career progression at Ashurst.”

Pinsent Masons Edinburgh-based senior associate Louisa Wallace has also had a positive experience moving between Scotland and Australia.

“Having spent two years working in Sydney, some of that time with Pinsent Masons’ Sydney office, and seeing other colleagues move around the firm’s network, it is clear that there is mobility between these jurisdictions,” Ms Wallace says.

“In fact it has been a huge benefit to me to experience working from a different office of Pinsent Masons, to see how the firm works with its client base across different jurisdictions, and to work with some of the same global clients across jurisdictions, and to bring certain specialist insight from one jurisdiction to another.”

She praises Edinburgh as “an important UK business centre, with many global companies counting it as one of their key hubs”.

“You benefit from great quality of work in a thriving city that offers a different pace of life to other financial centres. You may also gain experience of working in teams, such as renewable energy, which are market-leading,” Ms Wallace says.

The B-word

Following last year’s Brexit vote, there have been a number of concerns highlighted about working in affected countries.

No one understands this better than Clyde & Co Scotland head, Gordon Keyden, who has been closely monitoring the recruitment drive coming in and out of these markets.

“The uncertainty caused by the recent Brexit vote raises concerns that this might deter inward investment into Scotland. Recruitment remains cautious overall in Scotland and businesses are looking at ways to improve the efficiency of their service delivery to clients,” he says.

“Recruiters want you to be able to understand the journey the UK and global economy have been on in the past few years and how trends in different sectors, and Brexit, may affect their firm.

“There is a demand for lawyers, but only in certain sectors like litigation. It is anticipated that from 2016 to 2020, construction growth for Scotland as a whole will mainly be driven by housebuilding as many large-scale projects come to an end, as well as various motorway upgrades.”

Cautiously optimistic

Despite being wary of the concerns surrounding Brexit, Mr Keyden remains cautiously optimistic that the Scottish legal market is a viable one.

“The Scottish market has been dominated by mergers and consolidation in recent times,” he says.

“Addleshaw Goddard has been circling a move to Scotland for some time, having obtained the partner vote to merge with HBJ. Two of the so-called ‘big four’ Scottish law firms have undergone cross-border mergers. McGrigors merged with Pinsent Masons in 2012, and Dundas & Wilson merged with CMS in 2014, whilst the following year saw Clyde & Co enter the market through its merger with Simpson & Marwick.

“Many clients … don’t understand why there is a separate Scottish law [from English law] and want a one-stop shop. Entering the Scottish legal market will give English firms exposure to lucrative markets, such as oil and gas, plus the bonus of local corporate work.”

Conversely, Mr Keyden says some sectors have taken a hit in recent times.

“Firms that work for clients in sectors which rely heavily on public funding – healthcare, housing, local government, transport, education, infrastructure, charities – have found some of their work decreasing,” he says.

“In addition, increases in court costs are affecting firms. For example, rises in Employment Tribunal fees have led to a decrease in low-value work, meaning that small to mid-size firms are doing more non-contentious employment work if they can.”

A word to the wise

Just like Australian law, Scottish law has its own requirements that legal professionals need to complete before being able to practise.

“If an Australian lawyer wanted to move into the Scottish legal market, they would generally require qualifications in Scots law,” Mr Coffey says from experience.

“Our Glasgow office provides something different in that a new or nearly newly graduated lawyer from Australia can be exposed to largescale projects, and have direct client involvement at an earlier level than would generally be the case.”

Mr Keyden says there are countless opportunities for Aussie lawyers in Scotland, so long as they are ambitious and talented.

“Scotland has a strong education sector, with 19 higher education institutions,” he notes.

“Around 51,105 overseas students enrol in higher education courses at Scottish universities and colleges annually, so the competition for top talent should not be overlooked.”

Ms Wallace, meanwhile, says it is important that Aussie legal professionals looking to make the move understand the magnitude of their decision.

“While it is a big step, there are benefits in personal and professional terms of experiencing life and work in a different country,” she says.

“Edinburgh is an incredible city, with a lot to offer both in terms of quality of work and a vibrant social scene, and is a different experience from London – you can easily live within walking distance of work, and be outside the city to explore the outdoors in no time. But maybe time your arrival for summer to enjoy the long hours of daylight before the Scottish winter sets in! Edinburgh’s location is great if you’re keen to explore the UK and the rest of Europe.”

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