Lawyers have had much think about this year. From the new Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament in April to a call for improved environmental governance, monitoring and enforcement and the Guide to Creating a Wellbeing Strategy for the profession, they continue to address several urgent issues. 

All agree, however, that the needs of clients remain paramount. The range of clients is highlighted by both Chambers and the Legal 500 which annually publish their highly regarded rankings of Scotland’s leading firms and lawyers, from those advising on international corporate deals to family lawyers who increasingly use mediation to help parents in marital disputes. 

The Legal 500 notes that Scotland’s legal market has gone through “significant change” in recent years, with many of the market’s leading players having been taken over by international firms looking for a foothold in the country, such as CMS, Pinsent Masons, Dentons and Addleshaw Goddard. This reshaping of the market, it says, has presented opportunities for domestic firms such as Brodies, Burness Paull, Harper Macleod and Shepherd and Wedderburn to stake their claim as market leaders.

Alongside the big business centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow, Aberdeen remains a key market for clients in the energy sector.

In Tier 1 of the corporate and commercial sector, David Anderson has recently been elevated to head Addleshaw Goddard’s corporate team in Scotland, overseeing a practice which advises significant and high-value transactions throughout the UK and internationally, while also being regarded for its capabilities regarding private equity, M&A, and corporate real estate matters.

The firm is joined in Tier 1 by Brodies, which is noted for a particular strength in cross-border M&A with a team led by the highly experienced Neil Burgess, who has a “phenomenal track record across multiple sectors”.  

In banking and finance, Burness Paull is placed in Chambers’ Band 1 for its work in fund and real estate finance. Other areas of expertise include debt sales, leveraged finance and acquisition finance. The firm has significant experience in the oil and gas sector and highlights included acting on behalf of HICP Holdings in the £151 million facility from PIMCO and Deutsche Bank.

Brodies is placed in the Legal 500’s Tier 1 for commercial property, a sector that has faced multiple challenges since the pandemic, including rocketing supply chain costs, the emptying of city-centre offices as working from home has metamorphosed into hybrid working and the need to rescue the ailing retail sector. 

It is “geared to support in the full spectrum of commercial property matters”, due not least to the group’s wider expertise in planning, tax, environment, construction, and property litigation. Johane Murray heads the practice, which has enjoyed a recent uptick in the build-to-rent and life sciences fields.

The North Sea Transition Authority recently announced that 27 new licences had been awarded in the central and northern North Sea and west of Shetland, and with Rosebank, the biggest untapped oil field in the UK approved by the regulator, it is evident that traditional energy markets are not immediately winding up. Chambers says that in Band 1 Pinsent Masons has a broad practice with a high-quality renewables offering and extensive experience in the oil industry.

The firm’s clients include oil majors, regulatory bodies, energy investors and financial institutions. The team regularly advises on the property aspects of energy developments and on high-value M&A transactions across the energy sector. Its lawyers also assist with decommissioning issues.

In the emerging energy markets, Legal 500 gives Addleshaw Goddard a Tier 1 ranking. Operating “at the forefront of developing energy markets”, the firm continues to handle “an abundance of complex and multi-jurisdictional energy projects, with a significant increase in both contentious and non-contentious mandates related to renewables such as offshore wind, hydrogen, energy from waste and energy storage.”

This has been a dramatic year in Scotland for parliamentary affairs, with the departure of Nicola Sturgeon after more than eight years and the accession of Humza Yousaf, who was immediately faced with allaying fears that the SNP was fatally fragmenting. 

Harper Macleod, jointly headed by Jennifer Jack and James McMorrow, acts for public and private sector clients, government bodies and civil servants on a wide range of contentious and non-contentious parliamentary and public law issues. Legal 500 notes that the team is unusual in that it regularly acts for petitioners and respondents whereas the tradition in Scotland has usually been to focus on one or the other, while Calum Gee is identified as a rising star.

Dentons has been included in Chambers’ top three bands for 12 years in corporate/M&A activity and acts for several national and international corporates from sectors that include financial services, food and drink, and energy. It calls on “unparalleled capability … as the world’s biggest law firm” and acted for Stagecoach on acquiring London bus routes worth £24 million from two existing service providers. 

Legal 500 says that the firm’s corporate tax team in Scotland, which it places in Tier 1, offers specialist skills across the gamut of areas including real estate, planning for high-net-worth individuals, VAT, financial services, and warranties and indemnities for M&A transactions. Lorna McCaa leads the team from Glasgow.

In competition law, Burness Paull enters Chambers’ rankings this year “with a practice equipped to assist both domestic and international clients with behavioural matters, notably investigations into the exchange of information between competitors and abuses of dominance, as well as complaints of anti-competitive behaviour. The lawyers also draw upon their experience to act on cartel investigations.”

Highlights for the firm included acting for Elite Sports Group on the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into an alleged price-fixing cartel.

In commercial litigation and dispute resolution, the Legal 500 says Shoosmiths is noted for handling financial services litigation, property disputes and insolvency proceedings as well as professional negligence claims, recoveries litigation, and commercial contract and shareholder disputes. 

“Specialist in insolvency litigation” Stuart Clubb jointly leads the team with Andrew Foyle, who focuses on all aspects of financial services litigation.

With the super-acceleration of generative AI this year prompting sufficient anxiety for the government to host an AI safety summit at the famed wartime code-breaking centre Bletchley Park last month, companies are increasingly looking at IT and intellectual property (IP) issues. 

In the Legal 500’s Tier 1, Brodies handles a broad range of transactional and dispute resolution work, covering all aspects of IP protection, commercialisation and enforcement. It is also noted for its regulatory capabilities, advising major clients in heavily regulated industries including pharmaceuticals, biotech, food and consumer products.

Iain Rutherford heads the contentious offering and is highly adept when advising on IP-related disputes including outsourcing, domain name matters, online defamation and IT supplier issues.

BTO Solicitors is known for its contentious IP offering, handling complex trademark prosecution and opposition, copyright and database infringement, and restrictive covenant abuses. It advised Mactaggart & Mickel Homes on all IP matters in respect of the £46.3 million sale of its housebuilding division business into Springfield Properties in 2022.

The firm is also commended for its reputation in regulatory prosecutions and fatal accident inqui

ries by the police, the Health and Safety Executive, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, local authorities and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. 

Disputes in the area of media and entertainment are unsurprisingly many and diverse, including copyright and contractual litigation (for example on behalf of studios, producers, publishing houses or talent), matters arising from film finance, comparative advertising and Advertising Standards Authority disputes.

On the international stage this has become front-page news as Taylor Swift has re-recorded her back catalogue after her contract with Big Machine expired and it was acquired by private-equity group Ithaca Holdings.

Chambers says that Anderson Strathern has particular experience within the TV, film and publishing sectors. The team advises media start-ups and well-established brands and production companies. It possesses strengths in IP, reputation management and collaboration agreements of all kinds.

Simon Brown, who leads the firm’s corporate department is particularly noted for his experience working on behalf of publishers, and advises on commercial, IP and contentious matters involving all media formats.

In Chambers’ Band 2 Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie provides excellent work across the full spectrum of franchising law, including acquisitions, sales, terminations and licence renewals. It regularly advises franchisors and franchisees on associated matters concerned with property, tax and employment. The team acts on behalf of a broad client base drawn from industries including finance, retail and food.

Transport, a vital part of the infrastructure, has been seriously disrupted this year after a series of named storms. The sector also witnessed controversy over the continuing delays of the delivery of CalMac’s new ferries being built at the Ferguson shipyard on the Clyde.  

In the Legal 500’s Tier 1, Brodies is a leading player in the Scottish market and is “adept across all commercial, infrastructure and regulatory aspects of transport projects, and has long-established strength in the rail, shipping and aviation sectors, as well as the emerging market in zero-carbon transport.”

Duncan MacLean heads the shipping and transport team and covers both contentious and non-contentious work, while Roger Cotton also brings specialisms in regulatory law, public procurement and state aid.

In road transport, Chambers gives CMS a Band 2 placing for “a highly skilled team with strong capabilities across projects and infrastructure work, as well as regulatory matters.” It advises clients on a broad range of matters, including procurement, authorisation and construction as well as haulage matters and road regulation orders.

The firm advised the City of Edinburgh Council on its traffic orders under the Spaces for People programme. Mark McMurray, who heads the firm’s road regulatory practice, advises on major road projects and is particularly well known for acting on behalf of developers, as well as road and traffic authorities.

As the Office for National Statistics continues to report new records in the UK’s net migration, driven by events such as the end of Covid lockdown restrictions and the war in Ukraine, the need for lawyers to act speedily on complex cases is clearly growing. 

Chambers places Drummond Miller in Band 1 in the sector and the firm is described as a large player in the Scottish market with offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Its practitioners regularly handle sponsor licence applications and intra-company transfers as well as skilled worker visa proceedings.

In the Legal 500’s Tier 1, the team at Burness Paull advised Skyrora on international transfers, including the relocation of skilled space sector engineers from Ukraine into the UK and the Scottish Football Association on sports visa rules and the abolition of the concession that allowed easy entry to the UK for international coaching staff that work in the UK but live abroad.

Practice head Grace McGill is described as “an outstanding solicitor with great client empathy and a focus on practical results”.

Jennifer Gallagher of Lindsays is, says the Legal 500, the only Tayside lawyer accredited by the Law Society of Scotland in three specialist areas of family law, providing advice and representation in divorces, separation agreements, cohabitation cases and disputes involving children.  

Blackadders’ family law practice is headed by litigator Craig Samson and includes accredited family and child law specialist Gareth Masson, whose practice covers child relocation cases, adoptions and permanency orders.

Agriculture, fisheries and forestry account for four per cent per cent of the Scottish economy and the gross value added (GVA) is growing faster in these rural areas than in urban locations, according to the Scottish Government.

In the Legal 500’s Tier 1 Shepherd and Wedderburn is praised for its broad expertise across agriculture and estates matters, led by Hamish Lean from Aberdeen. 

In Chambers Band 2, Thorntons Law provides coverage across Scotland on an array of rural and agricultural land transactions, leases and renewables opportunities. 

It is “adept at advising landowners, farmers and businesses on agricultural tenancies and associated elements such as land registration and next generation planning”, with Kenneth Mackay well versed in all aspects of rural property matters, advising on transactional real estate dealings and complex development matters for private individuals and estate clients. 

In the gritty and challenging field of criminal law, the team at Levy & McRae is headed by Neil Hay, while the Legal 500 says that at the firm, David McKie “brings vast experience of police investigations and inquiries, including public, parliamentary and fatal accidents”. A highlight case was securing an absolute discharge in relation to an assault by a consultant paediatrician on his son, an unusual court sentencing disposal which was career-saving.