This article originally appeared in The Times on Thursday 31st May 2018.
Edinburgh’s skyline has changed a lot over the past 20 years.
From the offices of the law firm Turcan Connell in Tollcross, Simon Mackintosh, the chairman, can see how the city’s architecture mixes old and new, from the stone of the castle to the glass towers of the Quartermile development.
That same blend of traditional and modern is at the heart of Mackintosh’s firm. The practice was created in 1997 when Dundas & Wilson’s private client team was spun out and merged with its counterpart from W&J Burness.
“The genesis of the firm was that Arthur Andersen had taken over D&W and the private client partners at D&W said, ‘That’s not for us, we think the interests of private clients are best looked after in a private partnership focused on their needs’ ,” says Mackintosh, who was the head of Burness’s private client department. “We are able to take recruitment and investment decisions based on that client base.”
While private client work — from wills and trusts to property and divorce — is among the most traditional legal work, Turcan Connell has had to adapt. “The old-fashioned bit is the long-term relationships with clients,” Mackintosh agrees. “The modern bit is the law we’re practising keeps changing — if you look at the practice areas we’re involved in, most of them have been turned on their head since 1997.”
He points to family law, including civil partnerships, same-sex marriages and co-habiting couples’ rights, as well as land laws, such as right-to-roam and right-to-buy. That’s on top of taxation law’s annual alterations.
One of the biggest changes came in 1999 with the arrival of the Scottish parliament. With Holyrood expected to gain more powers once the UK leaves the EU, Mackintosh believes further changes must be considered.
“We just need to be sure the legislative structure is appropriate for the greater number of powers and higher volume of legislation coming through,” he says. “Is the committee system correct, for example?”
As well as changes to the political and legal systems, Turcan Connell has weathered economic storms. Mackintosh cites the 2008 banking crisis as a tough challenge; although the firm did not advise the banks or commercial property developers, the ensuing destruction of wealth affected its clients.
Scotland’s legal landscape has also shifted. From the old “big four” firms, only Shepherd & Wedderburn remains, with McGrigors taken over by Pinsent Masons in 2012, D&W swallowed by CMS in 2013, and Maclay, Murray & Spens rolled into Dentons last year.
Mackintosh says it was “unheard of” for law firms to go out of business 30 years ago, but he highlights the demise of Semple Fraser, Tods Murray and Pagan Osborne. “If firms have survived up to now then they’ll carry on, but there will be more mergers,” he says. “The 12-partner firm is in a difficult place, just to have the turnover to support the infrastructure you need to comply with all the regulatory requirements.”
As the firm enters its third decade, it is expanding into larger offices on St Vincent Street in Glasgow. About half of its 22 partners began with the firm as trainees, a fact in which Mackintosh takes pride, as he does in the reputation of his 220 colleagues.
Turcan Connell’s practice areas have expanded, but Mackintosh is adamant it is not recreating D&W by moving into corporate law. “We’re not losing our focus,” he says. “The land work takes us into renewables. When it comes to succession planning, we’re often dealing with family businesses too. In the old-fashioned language, we take a ‘man of business’ approach, which is what people used to look to their lawyer for.”
Turcan Connell has been an outspoken supporter of alternative business structures (ABS), which allow other professionals — such as accountants or surveyors — to join legal partnerships. Although the Scottish parliament passed legislation in 2010, the Law Society of Scotland believes the rules are unworkable; they are being examined in Esther Roberton’s independent review of legal services regulation.
Mackintosh does not think an ABS would have stopped his firm’s asset management arm — now known as Tcam — from its management buyout in 2015. “When Tcam was part of Turcan Connell, there was dual regulation by the Law Society of Scotland and the then Financial Services Authority,” he explains. “Tcam got to a size where it needed the next step up, which outside capital would give it. But I do see a situation where Turcan Connell would benefit from having an accountant as part of the partnership, for example, while some of the high street firms would no doubt benefit from having an estate agent round the table.”