This article was originally published in the Herald by Margaret Taylor, Wednesday 19th June 2019.
Alexander Garden took a leap of faith back in 1997 when he agreed to become the first-ever trainee at a newly founded firm that at that point had no standalone history.
That firm was private client specialist Turcan Connell and now, having long completed his traineeship, taken up partnership and gone on to lead the firm’s tax and succession practice, Mr Garden has been appointed its chairman.
It is an honour he feels justifies the risk he took in passing over what was in the 1990s one of the country’s largest and most successful law firms.
“I was supposed to be going to Dundas & Wilson but I got a phone call a couple of weeks before Turcan Connell was set up saying there wouldn’t be a private client practice there any more [because it was being spun out as Turcan Connell],” he said.
“I did think long and hard [about joining Turcan Connell instead] – back in 1997 Dundas & Wilson was the biggest Scottish law firm.
“It was a full-service firm law firm with opportunities to possibly go to London, but I was thinking about my long-term career and the sort of work I wanted to do.
“I always had an ambition to progress up to partnership and in the early days that was my focus. It’s been a fantastic journey to be part of the firm from day one and ending up in the position of being chosen as chairman as we enter the next phase is an honour.”
Though Turcan Connell was initially led by founders and joint senior partners Robert Turcan and Douglas Connell, there have been a number of management changes in recent years.
When Mr Turcan retired in 2013 tax partner Ian Clark was appointed to the new role of managing partner while Simon Mackintosh became the firm’s first chairman when Mr Connell stepped back in 2015. Mr Garden’s appointment has come after Gillian Crandles was named as the successor to Mr Clark earlier this year.
Like Ms Crandles, who as the first woman to lead the firm has been focusing on ways of boosting female retention and improving partnership diversity, Mr Garden said much of his focus during his four-year term would be on developing Turcan Connell’s own people. He believes the fact he has risen from trainee to chairman sends a message that that is something the firm is committed to doing.
“As chairman I’ll obviously be leading the partnership alongside Gillian as managing partner,” he said.
“Another key thing will be looking after our people, and retaining and developing our talent.
“Hopefully [my appointment] shows that we invest in our people, that we have longevity and that we want continuity of people.”
As part of that drive, Ms Crandles has been active in overhauling the firm’s maternity policy to ensure female lawyers – who account for just 17 per cent of the firm’s partnership - are supported as they return to work after having a child.
The firm also offers now offers a range of flexible-working patterns that are designed to give both male and female staff a better work-life balance with the aim of ensuring all talent is retained.
“Retaining people and developing them is key for our clients and for our staff,” Mr Garden said. “Around half our partners were trainees with the firm – that shows we are prepared to back our people.”
Looking at external influences, Mr Garden admitted that how his chairmanship plays out is likely to be impacted by the ongoing Brexit process.
“There are going to be challenges looking ahead – there are external factors at play and how knows what is going to happen there?,” he said.
“We have been through a financial crisis, an independence referendum and a Brexit referendum. The latter has still to fully play out but we have managed to be there for our clients, providing them with guidance and counsel, and that will hold us in good stead regardless of what’s coming down the track.”
Mr Mackintosh, who will remain at the firm as a consultant when Mr Garden takes over next month, said he “warmly welcomes” his successor.
Alix Storrie, meanwhile, is taking over management of the tax and succession planning practice. Like Mr Garden, she trained at Turcan Connell, qualifying in 2004 and becoming a partner in 2014.
Read more in the recent press coverage below.