The movers and shakers 

From huge international energy deals to family lay to licensing hearings: a snapshot of how scotland’s law firms and individuals have fared in the annual rankings 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it – as a bewildered Dr McCoy (allegedly) said in the original series of Star Trek. And indeed it’s been that kind of year, with Scotland’s legal sector, like all other areas of businesses in the UK confronted with challenges on a scale that could not possibly have been anticipated.  

It’s a profession, though, that has quietly and efficiently dealt with previous crises: The Act of Union more than 300 years ago, half a century of Jacobite rebellions and a couple of World Wars among others. And neither the UK Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners have been deterred from publishing their much anticipated rankings of Scotland’s law firms and individuals – an annual high point for the profession that gives both in-depth and wide-ranging coverage to the legal sector and its achievements both in Scotland and, increasingly, beyond our shores. 

These range from large corporate practices operating in sectors that include international property and energy deals to family and matrimonial lawyers and criminal lawyers dealing in areas that are fundamental to their basic safety of their clients.  

And while these pages represent only a snapshot of the expertise highlighted by both Legal 500 and Chambers’ listings, it they seek to highlight the breadth of proficiency that has been evident in unprecedented circumstances.   

While there have been inevitable challenges in the Corporate and Commercial realm, it’s unsurprising that the Legal 500 places Brodies in Tier 1, handling, it says, “an impressive range of national and international deals” from its offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. 

Acting for private and public companies, institutions, high-net-worth individuals and third sector clients, the firm advises on M&A, equity investments, joint ventures, corporate governance and business-critical commercial matters.  

The firm’s banking and finance department is also placed in Chambers’ band 1, its banking lawyers having been involved in a number of the biggest and most complex finance transactions in Scotland and the UK, including the M8 and Aberdeen Bypass roads projects and a major refinancing exercise for Glasgow Housing Association.   

Encouragingly, partner Neil Burgess adds: “There are some very strong valuations in technology at the moment. Areas that can reinvent how we’re doing business or how supply chains work and can bring efficiencies are really doing quite well.” 

Pinsent Masons is also noted for its strong banking and finance team, one recognised for its strength in real estate, as well as leveraged and project finance and its capacity to handle cross-border transactions, representing an impressive selection of national and international banks and regularly involved in corporate finance and capital markets matters. 

Despite the Scottish Government’s introduction of 100% business rates relief in 2020/2021 for properties with specified uses in retail, hospitality and leisure in Scotland the Commercial Property sector remains a hugely challenging one. The Legal 500 highlights  Addleshaw Goddard in Tier 1 for its handling of real estate matters for large corporates, UK financial institutions and domestic and overseas-based private funds. It is particularly focused on the transport, telecoms, student accommodation and private rented sectors. Team head Miles Ede is increasingly gaining prominence in transactions of national significance. 

Several of the big hitters appear Chambers’ real estate rankings, with Shepherd and Wedderburn’s team in Band 1, one that is consistently recognised  in the leading independent legal directories and which is supported by specialists in planning, construction, property litigation, corporate, finance, tax and restructuring.  It acts for a client base that ranges from property companies and real estate funds to pension funds, investment trusts and universities. It’s joined in the top band by Brodies, Burness Paull, CMS and Pinsent Masons.  

In the Family and Matrimonial area, as Chambers points out, “To have one social or political upheaval that affects family law in one year is significant but to have two massive social and political upheavals is something no current practitioner may experience again”. Divorce challenges it says will be reported arising out of asset value changes which the pandemic has caused, and so too with Brexit there be will new arguments about the right forum and interpretation of new rules as we move from the world of Brussels regulations. 

Morton Fraser, SKO and Turcan Connell join Brodies in Band 1. Morton Fraser’s Rhona Adams heads the team and is highly regarded for her adept handling of complex financial provision matters, particularly noted for her cross-border expertise and is dual-qualified in Scottish and English law and described as “very measured, calm and a very good mediator.” 

The Legal 500 says that the family practice at Turcan Connell, led by firm-wide managing partner Gillian Crandles has particular expertise in divorce and separation agreements for extremely wealthy families and is are well-equipped to assess asset division and financial provision for individuals whose financial arrangements are complex and diversified across trusts, company shares, rural and farming businesses, across multiple jurisdictions.  

Brodies has a strong track record in transformational M&A in the Oil and Gas sector. It also advises clients on field developments, transportation arrangements and decommissioning. Clare Munro, who leads the team, has over 20 years of experience. Greg May is well regarded for his drilling sector knowledge, while Sonia Love is noted for her FPSO field developments expertise. Rhona McFarlane is renowned for her experience of complex decommissioning matters. 

In Energy (excluding oil and gas) CMS, Pinsent Masons and Shepherd and Wedderburn are given a Tier 1 listing while Harper Mcleod continues to be strong in the UK secondary and investment markets, and is well regarded for its expertise in construction, planning and property, grid connection agreements and renewable energy projects. David Bone leads the team, which acts for funders and borrowers on the financing and refinancing of renewables projects and Omar Ali is highlighted as a next generation partner.  

Brodies and CMS sit side by side in Chambers’ Band 1 for Information Technology, with CMS’s Alan Nelson noting: “The importance of IT and connectivity has been demonstrated everyone of us through the pandemic. The seismic shifts we have seen in changing to home working, connecting with people over zoom and the relentless progress of Big Tech looks like a trend that will well outlast the pandemic. Brexit is just around the corner – it is to be hoped that our even greater reliance on tech will create new global opportunities for Scotland and the wider UK tech sector.”  

Anderson Strathern is in Legal 500’s Tier 1 for Agriculture and Estates and has an “efficient, approachable, and very knowledgeable” rural land and business team, with the National Trust for Scotland and Crown Estate Scotland among its key clients. The firm has considerable experience of managing high-value transactions, notably having advised the Buccleuch Estate on the sale of the Evertown portfolio for well over its £19.5m guide price. 

Anderson Strathern joins Brodies LLP in Tier 1 for Parliamentary and Public Affairs. Brodie’s team assists a wide range of public, private and third sector clients with legislative drafting, judicial reviews and public inquiries alongside local government and public procurement matters. Led by solicitor advocate Christine O’Neill, the practice is praised for its strong litigation capabilities and is a regular fixture on Brexit and Scottish independence debates. 

The Law Society of Scotland points out that in recent years, Immigration law has become ever more contentious and complex with a number of high-profile cases with profound implications in areas as diverse as partner family visas and asylum applications following religious conversions. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the European Union and the accompanying EU settlements scheme are affecting millions of EU citizens in the United Kingdom. 

Drummond Miller LLP, says Legal 500, is a respected player in the sector, providing the full range of immigration services across all areas of personal immigration and nationality law. Founder and overall practice head David Brown has recently been providing advice on Brexit and the EU Settlement Scheme, but handles all aspects of immigration, nationality, Human Rights and EU law while Janey Armstrong is the main contact in Glasgow and Humphrey Ndubuisi for immigration litigation, a breadth of experience in Immigration litigation covering human rights law, EC law and deportation cases; deprivation of citizenship; Tier 1 and other PBS cases and very complex immigration cases. 

Chambers cites the immigration team at Burness Paull for its “extensive expertise in commercial immigration matters, with a focus on Tier 2 sponsor licences for international corporates.” It handles various types of visa applications for highly skilled migrants in sports, engineering and technology and provides strategic advice to corporate clients on the impact of Brexit. 

Chambers also rates Brodies and CMS highly for their work in Transport projects and infrastructure. Eleanor Lane of CMS, who has particular expertise in the transport and maritime sectors, says: “Investment in transport and transport infrastructure is increasingly important as we face altered international trading arrangements, regional restrictions on movement, and changed holiday patterns” 

 “Despite a sharp drop in commuter traffic, the pandemic has thrown the need for robust transport networks into sharp focus. From global shipping to last-mile distribution, from long-haul travel to staycations, our need to move people and products from A to B is unlikely to reduce any time soon” 

Among others, Chambers reports that CMS is also highly regarded in work for Education Institutions, while MacRoberts assists a wide range of public, private and third sector clients with legislative drafting, judicial reviews and public inquiries alongside local government and public procurement matters. 

Anderson Strathern’s institutions team has wide-ranging expertise in education law, including matters involving the Higher Education Governance Act and the Equality Act and it advises many of Scotland’s leading universities and university associations on matters ranging from employment tribunals to immigration issues.  

In this of all years, the Health sector has come especially to the fore and Legal 500 says that CMS has a fine reputation in advising NHS, private sector healthcare sector players, building contractors and funders on major health and social care projects – with particular expertise in the acute care sector – including procurement, financing, commercial and transactional matters as well as associated disputes. Team head Amanda Methven handles the full range of contentious and non-contentious healthcare sector work and highlights of the year included advising NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde on the £70m project to complete primary, community and mental health facilities in Glasgow. 

Drummond Miller’ Clinical Negligence practice, says Legal 500, is regarded by some as “the leader in their field”. The “hugely experienced” Liesa Spiller leads the team and is an expert in claims concerning birth injuries and surgical errors, with a consistent record of major settlements, very able and one of the main figures in Scottish clinical negligence litigation”. Fellow practice leader Darren Deery is very active on claims involving misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, with certain cases going to the Court of Session, often reaching seven-figure settlements. 

Dentons is placed by Chambers in Band 1 for EU and Competition law, with a department best known for contentious competition law including previous successful challenges of regulators (Skyscanner v CMA/OFT; Stagecoach v CC; Nynas v European Commission and C&C against the Portman Group). Partner Michael Dean has experience in competition law, including cartel proceedings, distribution, state aids and merger clearances – while managing to balance his time by also being an Honorary Consul for the Federal Republic of Germany for Glasgow. 

Legal 500 says that Harper Macleod LLP’s competition team focuses on handling public procurement and state aid matters for public and private sector clients. Other areas of expertise include merger control, anti-competitive agreements and abuse of dominance.  

TLT’s Licensing team which Chambers places in Band 1 is highly regarded and offers “significant strength in depth”. Alcohol licensing is a key area of focus, alongside entertainment and gambling licensing concerns with expertise in contentious licensing applications.  

The firm’s client base includes sporting organisations, music venues and major retailers as well as gaming operators, with one reporting: “They are incredibly capable, and they always handle all our requirements professionally and with great clarity”. 

Brunton Miller and Hill Brown also appear in Band 1, with the latter frequently acting for large-scale pub, restaurant and retail clients in licensing hearings, applications and variations and is  Particularly active advising on liquor, entertainment and gaming licensing mandates.  

Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP’s Franchising team has a diverse mix of accredited experts with decades of experience in the industry. Martin O’Neill, Partner at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP, has been recognised as a leading practitioner in the Chambers Guide consistently over the last decade, along with fellow WJM partners.   

Speaking about the pandemic’s impact on franchising, he says: “Globally, the franchising industry encompasses almost all business sectors. As a result, the experience of franchise businesses throughout the pandemic has been a mixed bag.  Some franchises have been hit hard as a result of COVID-19, particularly those involving high street retail and leisure.   

“By contrast, however, some have been much busier than anticipated.  Those involved in home and garden renovation and maintenance for example, have benefited from the increase in people turning their attention to DIY and home improvement.” 

Legal 500 says that in Media and Entertainment Denton’s practice –  jointly led by Gareth Hale and Ross Nico – focuses on reputation management and has been engaged for a number of high-profile defamation disputes in recent months. The practice is closely integrated with the international firm’s global media and entertainment practice, which delivers a full service offering in the film and television, gaming, e-sports, music, publishing and advertising sectors.    

While in Criminal Law Adams Whyte, with offices in Glasgow has its Edinburgh, Livingston and Kirkcaldy offices is ranked in Band 1 by Chambers while long-term stalwarts Beltrami & Co make a return appearance. The firm is also ranked In Tier 1 by Legal 500, with John Scott QC Solicitor Advocate and MTM Defence Lawyers. 

MTM’s clients include professionals and high-net-worth individuals, who benefit from the firm’s geographical reach. Legal 500 says it handles sexual and domestic cases with breach of peace, domestic assault, stalking, revenge porn and Communications Act offences areas of particular strength, which leads to regular referrals from family law firms.