A Commentary on the Scottish Legal Market

A Commentary on the Scottish Legal Market

Over the last year there has been a trend of consolidation in the legal market. Whilst major political and economic events often dictate the direction of the market, a resilience has been shown and firms have continued to hire. This positive outlook has been reflected in surveys over the last year which have shown that a significant proportion of clients in the Scottish market (40%) expect an increased need for legal services over the next 2 years, comparing favourably with a UK regional average of around 25%. This prediction is in spite of the uncertainty around Brexit and the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum further down the line.

In the legal sector, in demand areas of recent years have followed the trends of the Scottish economy and have highlighted its diverse nature. We have seen a thriving renewables sector, booming property market (both residential and commercial), an enviable technology sector (with household names such as FanDuel and Skyscanner) and a financial services industry that is still vibrant, despite problems precipitated by the financial crisis.


Scotland boasts a diverse range of law firms including sole practitioners, boutique firms and international heavyweights such as Pinsent Masons, Dentons and CMS.

National firms are predominantly based in the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. That is not to say that the more rural areas are underserviced; Harper Macleod have offices in the Highlands and Shetland Islands and other renowned firms such as Blackadders, Thorntons and Aberdein Considine have several offices across Scotland’s smaller towns. Additionally, a great number of traditional Solicitor/Estate Agency practices continue to operate successfully in these less populated areas.


The last year has seen a spate of mergers, most notably those between Dentons and Maclay Murray & Spens, CMS, Olswang and Nabarro, and Addleshaw Goddard and HBJ.

Although naysayers may lament the disappearance of some “historic” names from the market, there has been a positive impact with renewed focus on key sectors as a response to the increased client demand for legal advisers with capabilities both north and south of the border.

In terms of candidate movement, the last few years have seen a marked increase in demand for lawyers in Commercial Property and Corporate Law, especially in the 2-6 years’ PQE range. This increased demand is a result of both economic activity in those sectors and also a shortfall in candidate talent due to reduced numbers of Trainee Solicitors after the financial crisis.

Scotland’s digital technology sector continues to grow apace and this has seen a greater demand for Solicitors with experience in IT, IP Commercial contracts and software agreements; solicitors in the 0-5 years’ PQE range are at the centre of that demand.

Despite the movement and demand for more junior solicitors, there have been a number of significant lateral partner hires. Team moves are not uncommon, indeed whole departments have moved to rival firms.

It is not only fee-earners that are in demand, paralegals are also an increasingly valued part of legal practice. Their increased importance has been reflected in the recent introduction of an Accreditation scheme for Paralegals. The Paralegal Society actively encourages members to undertake paralegal qualifications and this has seen an increase in salaries and movement between firms as paralegals seek opportunities that will provide better remuneration and support for CPD. Residential Conveyancing, Housebuilder/Plot Sales and Private Client Law are areas that have seen the most demand and movement.

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Author: Oliver Oak