Merger has long been the mark of the Scottish legal market, with more than 20 years passing since one-time sector leader Dundas & Wilson entered an ill-fated tie-up with accountancy firm Andersen Legal.

Though it fell apart when Arthur Andersen was engulfed in the Enron scandal, the deal led to extensive change in the Scottish market, with McGrigors initially tying up with KPMG before later joining forces with Pinsent Masons, and a slew of other firms seeking partnerships both inside Scotland and across the UK.

Activity among the larger Scottish players had largely died down after Addleshaw Goddard took over HBJ Gately in 2017 but looked to be stepping back up a gear when Dundee-headquartered Thorntons joined forces with Edinburgh practice Stuart & Stuart last year.

By far the biggest merger in several years came in November, when the tie-up between MacRoberts and Morton Fraser was completed. Long touted as potential merger candidates, the firms finally found a match in each other, creating a legal business with a turnover of £46 million, large presences in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a total solicitor headcount of more than 250.

Announcing the deal in September, Morton Fraser chief executive Chris Harte – who has taken the same role at enlarged firm Morton Fraser MacRoberts – said the time had come “for a new style of law firm within Scotland’s top tier”.

“Morton Fraser and MacRoberts are complementary firms, built on similar values,” he said. “We are both known for our user-friendly, people-centred approach and those qualities will continue to drive our thinking for the future. By merging, we will compete even more strongly in our chosen markets, while offering something truly unique for the top tier.”

MacRoberts managing partner Neil Kennedy, who is chief operating officer of the new business, called the merger “a great move for our people and our clients”.

“Joining our collective talents and resources will help us to accelerate our growth, offering greater strength in depth and more wide-ranging services to clients,” he said. “We are committed to excellence at every turn and will be focusing heavily on how our newly merged business can invest in talent and technology. It is an exciting time.”

When the deal closed, Harte pledged to “move from theory to practice, and from promises to action” while Kennedy said the new firm would “invest even more in our talent and use our greater scale to meet the evolving needs of our clients”.

Other deals that closed this year saw Lindsays take over Miller Hendry while Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie (WJM) announced that UK player Irwin Mitchell is planning to acquire it before going on itself to acquire smaller firm Macandrew & Jenkins.

In the former deal, which closed in May, Lindsays added to its Dundee presence and gained offices in Perth and Crieff by taking over the smaller Tayside practice, consolidating the expansion it began by taking over Shield & Kyd and MacLachlan & MacKenzie in 2012, RSB Macdonald in 2015, Aitken Nairn in 2018 and Hadden Rankin in 2019.

Lindsays managing partner Alasdair Cummings noted the “real synergies” between his firm and Miller Hendry, and said the firm was continuing to look for further acquisitions in the Perth area. 

Irwin Mitchell and WJM, meanwhile, announced their deal, which is subject to FCA approval, in September. 

Though the firms will continue to operate separately when the deal closes, Irwin Mitchell, which already has a presence north of the border, said they would work “in collaboration to provide a full suite of legal and financial services operating out of more than 20 locations across England, Scotland, and Wales”.

Irwin Mitchell chief operating officer Craig Marshall said: “The two firms are a great cultural fit and share a similar purpose, values, and future vision. 

“We have ambitious plans for growth, and we are both focused on building on our client-centric approach, an excellent colleague experience and an ambition to become leading responsible businesses.”

A month later, WJM announced the Macandrew & Jenkins deal, increasing its presence in the Inverness area following the 2016 acquisition of MacArthur & Co and 2019 takeover of Calum Duncan Corporate Lawyers.