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Scotland’s sluggish economic growth continues to inform the legal market. In Aberdeen, the market for much of 2016 continued to be buffeted by a low oil price environment, although prices stabilised to an average of $41 per barrel in the first eight months of the year. Upstream operators and services companies continued to manage rationalisations and costs reductions during the year. That said, there is now a sense that the market may have bottomed out, marked by a slowdown in job losses. In addition, cautious optimism has partly been fuelled by OPEC’s agreement in November 2016 to cut its production for the first time since 2008. The longer-term outlook for the industry remains difficult to gauge, but the market continues to be very tough (particularly on the supply chain side).

For the rest of Scotland, particularly in the Central Belt, 2016 could be summed up as ‘business as usual’. The resilience of the market was demonstrated by the outcome of the UK vote to leave the European Union, which had a minimal immediate knock-on effect on investor sentiment. There is, however, some anxiety as to what the consequences of a ‘hard Brexit’ could mean, and whether the final terms of a deal over the UK’s departure may instigate a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Notwithstanding political and economic headwinds, the Scottish legal market is likely to see a continued trend towards consolidation, as has been the case in previous years, with historically London-headquartered firms, such as Pinsent Masons LLP and CMS, having entered the market and become particularly major players. The latter’s recent merger with Nabarro LLP and Olswang LLP follows a tie-up with Scottish firm Dundas & Wilson in 2014, and has generated significant market interest. In other recent developments, HBJ Gateley’s merger with Addleshaw Goddard completed at the start of June 2017, and Shepherd and Wedderburn deepened its footprint in Aberdeen through its acquisition of The Commercial Law Practice LLP. In a notable development at the former firm, Katie Williams succeeded Roger Connon as the Aberdeen office head in April 2017, becoming the first female in the firm’s history to lead the office. Connon stepped down as a partner to become the head of oil and gas at the Pinsent Masons-owned legal resourcing business Vario.

Brodies LLP and Burness Paull LLP are the two largest independent Scottish firms, and have offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Also noted for its pan-Scottish reach is Harper Macleod LLP, whose presence in the Central Belt is complemented by its work in the Highlands and Islands. Turcan Connell has a particularly outstanding private client offering. Other firms such as Maclay Murray & Spens LLP and Morton Fraser generate excellent market feedback. Aberdein Considine, Blackadders LLP, Ledingham Chalmers LLP, Stronachs LLP and Thorntons Law LLP are also highly regarded.

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