Legal Business

Legal Business Awards 2020 – Regional/Offshore Firm of the Year

Legal Business Awards 2020 – Regional/Offshore Firm of the Year

We are now down to the final few and arguably most prestigious categories, starting with naming our Regional/Offshore Firm of the Year in the 2020 Legal Business Awards.

This award highlights the UK-based regional or offshore firm (with headquarters outside of London) that has made the most significant progress over the past year in advancing its strategy. Key factors taken into account are evidence of effective leadership, impressive financial performance and increased market share.


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Winner – Shepherd and Wedderburn

Scotland’s third-largest independent firm by revenue, Shepherd and Wedderburn had largely been thought to have fallen behind rivals Brodies and Burness Paull in recent years. However, Shepherd has matched the revenue growth of its larger peers over the last five years and continues to prove its doubters wrong.

In 2018/19, revenues rose 4% to £55.7m while profits increased 4% to £22.8m. Although year-on-year performance was solid rather than spectacular, the five-year revenue and profit growth of 51% and 61% respectively is striking. As noted in our Legal Business 100 coverage, between 2014 and 2019, Shepherd and Wedderburn achieved the seventh highest profit per equity partner (PEP) growth rate of the firms listed.

Other highlights of 2019 include establishing an office in Singapore in response to client demand for the firm’s internationally recognised regulatory expertise and its experience supporting leading businesses in the telecoms, energy and utilities sectors and opening an office in Dublin to ensure continuity of service to clients across the EU post-Brexit; including on European intellectual property and competition matters.

The firm is much more than an efficient client-service machine: it is also a thought leader and a ground breaker in its own community. It published Scotland in 2050: Realising Our Global Potential, a report commissioned to coincide with the firm’s 250th anniversary to help best position the Scottish economy for the future, and a series of follow-up political engagement events attended by more than 400 leading figures from the private, public and third sectors, and representatives of the UK and Scottish governments. It also became the only Scottish-headquartered law firm in the inaugural list of the UK’s top 25 legal employers for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff, published by Stonewall and the InterLaw Diversity Forum as part of Stonewall’s annual Workplace Equality Index.

The words of James Peirson, group general counsel of Virgin Money UK, sum the firm up best: ‘Shepherd and Wedderburn’s innovative offering, disruptive approach on re-engineering how these processes work, in-house developer expertise and clear desire not to fall back on the same old ways of working were among the things that drew us to them. Our work with this trusted partner is helping us deliver consistent, high-quality outcomes for customers right now and has helped us shape our plans for our future operating model.’

Highly Commended – Ramsdens Solicitors

A strong commitment to corporate social responsibility and having its roots deeply ingrained in its local community through 15 offices across the Yorkshire region are hallmarks that set this up-and-coming firm apart locally.

Growth has been impressive: in 2009 Ramsdens had 100 team members in six offices; in 2019 it had 300 team members across 15 offices. Its continued growth strategy saw revenue surpass the £14.5m mark and a healthy performance across all practice areas has allowed further expansion and investment across the offices. The acquisition of Burn & Co in March 2018 strengthened its offering in the North Yorkshire legal market and a further acquisition of Holroyd & Co in February 2019 took the firm to over 300 staff.

The firm is not a Big Law brand but rather one that larger brands could learn from. Half of its equity partners are female and women make up 75% of its management team. In addition, each member of staff gets one day volunteering a year and nearly three quarters of the entire firm takes part in a charity or community activity.

Other nominations


East Anglia stalwart Birketts impressed yet again, with revenue up 14% year-on-year in 2018/19 to £54.4m and PEP up 11% to £372,000. Revenue and PEP were also up 72% and 47% respectively over the last five years. The firm distributed £1.3m in bonuses to its staff as a result.

Carey Olsen

This offshore firm’s focus on growth in Asia continued apace in 2019 with the launch of a new BVI and Cayman Islands corporate practice in Hong Kong and a new BVI and Cayman Islands litigation practice in Singapore. This was supplemented by lateral hires of disputes partners Michael Padarin and James Webb, both from rival firm Walkers.


This global offshore giant has enjoyed further year-on-year revenue growth off the back of a record year in 2018. Globally, and in specific markets such as Asia and Cayman, compound annual growth rate has averaged well in excess of 30% over the last five years.

Myerson Solicitors

This Manchester-based firm has grown considerably over the last eight years to become a recognised player in the North West. It has trebled in size since 2011 without undertaking any acquisitions. Year-on-year, double-digit organic growth has been achieved over the last eight years, increasing turnover from £2.6m to over £10m in 2018/19.

Legal Business

A long-time coming: Shepherd and Wedderburn lands in Dublin amid Brexit uncertainty

A long-time coming: Shepherd and Wedderburn lands in Dublin amid Brexit uncertainty

Shepherd and Wedderburn has become the latest firm to set up shop in the Republic of Ireland in response to Brexit.

The new office, announced today (22 July), has been launched in a bid to protect European client business and will be led by Paul Carlyle (pictured), the Scottish-headquartered firm’s head of media and technology, alongside media and technology partner Joanna Boag-Thomson and Gordon Downie, head of regulation and markets.

Carlyle told Legal Business the Dublin move had been on the table for a long time following growing demand for client work in the Irish market over the last six years and as a consequence of the Brexit referendum in 2016.

About five partners from the firm will conduct European intellectual property and competition matters from the Dublin office, although nobody will immediately be based there: ‘We’ve not moved anybody permanently,’ Carlyle said.

He added that there were no immediate plans to make new hires. The firm claims to have clients active in more than 120 jurisdictions outside the UK.

Shepherd and Wedderburn managing partner Andrew Blain added: ‘Our ongoing focus is on our clients and ensuring they continue to receive European legal advice of the very highest quality, regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations.’

The Dublin opening follows a similarly small opening in Singapore in March which focuses on the telecoms, energy and utilities sectors. It also comes after a string of firms opening offices in Dublin, which most recently saw Clyde & Co launch there in May.

In the 2018/19 financial year, Shepherd and Wedderburn’s revenue rose 4% to £55.7m and profit was up by the same percentage to £22.8m. Over the last five years, the firm has grown turnover by 45%: following the trajectory of fellow, but larger, Scottish independents Brodies and Burness Paull.

Legal Business

LB100 case study: Shepherd and Wedderburn

LB100 case study:  Shepherd and Wedderburn

Scotland’s third-largest firm by revenue, Shepherd and Wedderburn, had largely been thought to have fallen behind Brodies and Burness Paull recently. However, Shepherd has matched the revenue growth of its larger peers over the last five years, up 49%. And after a dip in 2016/17, revenue and profit both returned to growth this year, up 6% and 10% respectively. Revenue now sits at £53.5m and profit £22m, while profit per equity partner (PEP) increased more than 15% to £403,000.

Highlights from the year included advising FanDuel on its proposed merger with Paddy Power Betfair, as well as becoming the first top-100 UK law firm to offer funded litigation in partnership with Burford Capital. Chief executive Stephen Gibb (pictured) says real estate and corporate have been particularly busy, with deal activity flowing through into the start of this financial year: the firm advised fintech company Nucleus Financial Group on its £140m AIM listing in July, for instance.

Legal Business

Growth for Scottish independents Brodies and Shepherd Wedderburn as uncertainty looms

Growth for Scottish independents Brodies and Shepherd Wedderburn as uncertainty looms

Scottish independents Brodies and Shepherd and Wedderburn have continued to grow despite a backdrop of what both describe as political and economic uncertainty.

For Brodies, a 3% uptick in turnover for the financial year represents its eighth consecutive year of top-line growth, while Shepherd and Wedderburn reported record revenue and profit of £53.5m and £22m respectively.

Revenue at Brodies rose to £68.59m, relatively flat year-on-year but up more than 31%, or £16.5m, since 2014. Profit this year increased 4% to £32.9m, and has risen nearly 40% over the same timeframe. This period represents the firm’s previous strategic cycle, which normally runs for three years but was extended to four following the Brexit referendum.

Managing partner Nick Scott (pictured), who took the role from longstanding incumbent Bill Drummond in April, told Legal Business the sustained growth validated the firm’s approach of having a strategy and sticking to it.

‘We don’t look at the growth rate from one year to the next, we need to look at the trend. We still see plenty of opportunity for us to grow.’

Highlights included advising the shareholders of Barrhead Travel Group on its acquisition by US travel company Travel Leaders Group and advising Craig Group on the sale of North Star Shipping in one of Scotland’s largest M&A deals. The firm also disposed of its personal injury business, which it said meant overall revenue was up £4m, or 6%, on a like for like basis with last year.

Scott’s appointment to managing partner brings with it a fresh three-year strategic cycle, which he said focused on there being growing opportunities for Scotland-based clients, clients investing in Scotland, and Scotland-headquartered law firms.

The oil and gas sector was turning around, while real estate and corporate and commercial activity was strong. Brodies had promoted five new partners in construction, private client services, real estate, corporate and litigation to reflect where it saw potential for growth. It also recently hired Tony Jones QC in its advocacy unit, the firm’s 98th partner, and added an office in Dingwall over the last year.

Scott said the political and economic uncertainty presented opportunities alongside the challenges: ‘One must never assume any particular event is good or bad, it’s never that black and white. That’s the lesson people in Scotland have learned over the last decade.’

Meanwhile, fellow Scottish leader Shepherd and Wedderburn’s record year saw revenue and profit rise 6% and 10% respectively. The firm has 78 partners across Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and London.

Highlights from the year included advising FanDuel on its proposed merger with Paddy Power Betfair, as well as becoming the first top 100 UK law firm to offer funded litigation in partnership with litigation funder Burford Capital.

Chief executive Stephen Gibb said it had been a busy period and Scotland was an attractive target for UK inward investment following the fall in the value of the sterling after the Brexit vote.

He commented: ‘Despite uncertainty over the outcome of Brexit negotiations and global macroeconomic trends, our UK and overseas clients have continued to be active, particularly in sectors in which we have market-leading expertise such as clean energy, real estate, construction, food and drink, technology and regulation. We remain cautiously optimistic about the year ahead.’

Legal Business

Shepherd and Wedderburn secure ‘substantial eight figure’ Burford litigation finance deal

Shepherd and Wedderburn secure ‘substantial eight figure’ Burford litigation finance deal

UK law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn has announced an eight figure sum portfolio-based litigation finance deal with Burford Capital for the first time to fund current and upcoming litigation the firm is handling.

The arrangement is the first to be offered by a top 100 UK firm with a litigation funder. City-headquartered Shepherd and Wedderburn has offices in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s head of commercial disputes Guy Harvey (pictured) told Legal Business that the firm had some specific upcoming competition damages claims in mind when agreeing the deal, but said the financing package would be used to support existing arbitration and intellectual property disputes.

‘We’re not in the market in looking for a big class actions, we’re a firm that deals with corporate actions between corporates’, Harvey said.

Harvey also stated that once the ‘substantial eight figure’ financing deal runs dry, he expects the firm to return to Burford to negotiate a new deal.

In a joint statement, Burford and Shepherd and Wedderburn insisted the deal would expand the firm’s ‘ability to offer alternative fee arrangements.’

In July, Burford Capital entered into a partnership with competition boutique Hausfeld to offer a financing package for UK claimants to pursue follow-on damages claims against truck makers who had participated in a 14-year price-fixing cartel.

In a statement, Hausfeld said that Burford will fund ‘the ongoing costs of litigation’ and will protect claimants against any adverse cost exposure.

Burford’s recent financial results revealed it had generated more profit in the first half of 2017 than any full year in its history, revealing a total 130% income rise from last June to $175.5m.

The income jump for the company, which also has a legal arm, was a result of a booming investment income which rose by 148% to $161.6m in the same time period, the firm said.

Shepherd and Wedderburn are currently representing oil and gas exploration company Cairn Energy in a $5.6bn arbitration claim against India over a disputed tax assessment.

The Indian government is attempting to claim $1.6bn in unpaid taxes from Cairn Energy, in relation to its $8.5bn sale of a 9.8% stake in Cairn India to Indian mining group Vedanta Resources.

Legal Business

Pinsents, Bond Dickinson and ShepWedd take panel spots for Severn Trent and United Utilities JV

Pinsents, Bond Dickinson and ShepWedd take panel spots for Severn Trent and United Utilities JV

Pinsent Masons, Bond Dickinson and Shepherd and Wedderburn have all won places on Water Plus’ legal panel. The new business water retailer is a joint venture launched by FTSE 100 water company Severn Trent and United Utilities.

Following a process led by Water Plus head of legal and company secretary Kristin Garrett, the LB100 firms have won a places on the panel lasting two years.

Stoke-on-Trent based Water Plus launched in June last year to provide services for business customers when new competition rules are introduced from April 2017. The new rules will allow eligible customers to switch water providers.

Bond Dickinson will provide advice across commercial, competition, regulatory and commercial disputes. Energy partner Ian Newcombe said: ‘The new competition rules coming into force in April 2017 will impact all UK businesses looking to switch providers and will come with a number of legal challenges as well as opportunities.’

Eversheds is Severn Trent’s sole adviser, renewing for a five-year term in 2015. The water company had considered appointing at least two firms to its roster with the company’s review taking proposals from a total of 13 firms across five different areas: debt recovery, employment, general quality regulation, property and combined competition/commercial economic regulation.

Earlier this week Legal Business revealed utilities giant National Grid has reorganised its in-house legal function following the £13.8bn separation of its gas distribution business.

The new business, National Grid Gas Distribution, has appointed National Grid’s former legal business partner Mark Cooper as its general counsel and company secretary.

National Grid Gas Distribution will retain the same panel arrangements with its main law firms, meaning firms will now sit on two panels. The panel was reduced in August 2015 following a review, with Herbert Smith Freehills, Irwin Mitchell and Addleshaw Goddard all winning places alongside incumbents Eversheds, Linklaters, CMS Cameron McKenna and DLA Piper.

Read more:‘A buyers’ market – The trends and traumas in adviser reviews’

Legal Business

Shearman and Shepherd to battle out $5.6bn Cairn Energy tax arbitration against India


Oil and gas exploration and development company Cairn Energy has picked lawyers from Shearman & Sterling and Shepherd and Wedderburn, as well as former India solicitor general Harish Salve, to bring a $5.6bn arbitration claim against India over a disputed tax assessment.

The claim has been brought through Cairn UK Holdings, a direct subsidiary of London-listed Cairn Energy, under a bilateral investment treaty between the UK and India. The arbitration will be seated in The Hague in the Netherlands with hearings set to begin in 2017. The disputes follows a tax crackdown by India on offshore subsidiaries, often demanded retroactively.

Cairn Energy bought a concession in the Indian state of Rajasthan for $7.5m in 2002 from Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell and subsequently discovered a vast oil deposit. The Scottish company sold a majority stake in Cairn India, which it had incorporated in Jersey, for $8.5bn to Vedanta, which is majority owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal’s Indian mining group Vedanta Resources.

Cairn’s long drawn out sale of its remaining 9.8% stake in Cairn India to Vedanta was blocked by Indian tax authorities on the grounds that Cairn owes the government $1.6bn in taxes on the original venture, as well as $2.8bn in interest.

Cairn said in a recent London Stock Exchange filing: ‘Cairn has also commenced international arbitration proceedings against the Republic of India under the UK-India Bilateral Investment Treaty on the basis that India’s actions have breached the Treaty by (1) expropriating Cairn’s property without adequate and just compensation, (2) denying fair and equitable treatment to Cairn in respect of its investments and (3) restricting Cairn’s right to freely transfer funds in connection with its investment. Based on detailed legal advice, Cairn is confident that it will be successful in such arbitration.’

Shearman & Sterling’s team for Cairn includes London-based international arbitration partner Mark McNeill and San Francisco-based Robert Nelson. They are being supported by lawyers at UK firm Shepherd and Wedderburn and Indian firm S&R Associates, with Cairn having also enlisted Harish Salve, a former solicitor general of India, to wage its legal battle. Blackstone Chambers barrister Salve recently acted on a similar dispute with the Indian tax authorities, advising for Vodafone India on a $2.6bn dispute over unpaid capital gains tax currently in international arbitration.

Read more on the oil & gas industry in: ‘Power struggles – the challenges facing counsel in the $5trn oil and gas industry’

Legal Business

‘Robust position’: Shepherd and Wedderburn enjoys third year of growth with revenue up 10%


Scottish independent Shepherd and Wedderburn has enjoyed a third year of consecutive growth with revenues up 10% to £53m. Similarly profits have increased by 20% to £21.5m.

This growth follows on from a revenue increase of 26% for 2014/15 from £38m to £48m, which included seven months of trading following the acquisition of Tods Murray in October 2014.

Shepherd and Wedderburn chief executive Stephen Gibb said that there had been solid growth in the firm’s core areas of corporate, real estate, dispute resolution and private client, as well as continued substantial investment in areas which are now mainstream or key services.

Gibb (pictured) added: ‘We have seen particular growth in the digital and telecoms sectors during that period, with a number of our key specialisms – such as pensions and share schemes being particularly busy, with corporate restructuring increasingly so. Our strategy of long term investment is working, and contributes strongly to our robust financial position.’

Last month Legal Business revealed Shepherd and Wedderburn was re-entering the Aberdeen market with the recent hire of Pinsent Masons’ John Rutherford as a consultant.

The firm first opened the office in the mid-2000s and had between 12 and 15 people when the office was closed and the firm moved to a serviced offering in 2011. Gibb is hoping to make a wider play than just oil and gas in Aberdeen, by expanding the office to cover the private client and rural market in the North East. This is also bolstered by the people the firm took on from Tods Murray which doubled the firm’s existing private client offering and added capability in rural.

Shepherd and Wedderburn is the third of the big Scottish independents to release financial figures for this year. There was similar double-digit growth at Brodies which continued its strong form announcing a revenue increase of 12% from £57.9m to £65.1m, while profits per equity partner (PEP) is up 13% from £532,000 to £602,000.

However rival independent Maclay Murray & Spens had another disappointing year financially with a 12% drop in PEP from £283,000 to £248,000, while turnover is up 3% to £44.8m.

Legal Business

Bucking the trend: Shepherd and Wedderburn to re-enter Aberdeen with Pinsents hire


Despite predictions of doom and gloom around Aberdeen and its oil and gas offering, Scottish LB100 firm Shepherd and Wedderburn is bucking the trend and will re-enter the market with the recent hire of Pinsent Masons‘ John Rutherford as a consultant.

The firm first opened the office in the mid-2000s and had between 12 and 15 people when the office was closed and the firm moved to a serviced offering in 2011. Rutherford is recommended by The Legal 500 and was a corporate finance partner who specialises in oil and gas. He had been a partner at Pinsents for three years, and prior to that was head of corporate at legacy firm McGrigors.

Any move into Aberdeen in the current climate may seem counterproductive, however Shepherd and Wedderburn chief executive Stephen Gibb told Legal Business that it is the right time to re-enter the market.

‘It is a tough market in Aberdeen but having been in Aberdeen during the boom years and pulled back – we struggled to recruit. Now we can actually go and speak to people who might not have spoken to us a while back. We reckon going back in now with the right level of presence and being configured for the new normal in Aberdeen we can make a good fist of it.’

Gibb (pictured) is hoping to make a wider play than just oil and gas in Aberdeen, by expanding the office to cover the private client and rural market in the North East. This is also bolstered by the people the firm took on from Tods Murray which doubled the firm’s existing private client offering and added capability in rural.

He added: ‘When we did the Tods deal we also brought in a really good rural team which complements our renewables people. Couple that with the offshore wind specialism that we already had in the oil and gas team.’

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s acquisition of Tods Murray in October 2014 has paid dividends for the firm, which posted a revenue increase of 26%, from £38m in 2014/15 to £48m in the year to 30 April 2015.

Shepherd and Wedderburn acquired the business and assets of 158-year old Tods Murray out of administration following the latter’s falling revenues and exposure to volatile property and finance markets. It managed to migrate the offices over without making compulsory redundancies in December 2015.

Legal Business

We need to talk… about technology: Shepherds’ CEO Gibb on keeping pace with technology


Innovation lies at the core of technology. Evolution and improvement in the ways we design and use basic utilities and infrastructure such as telecoms, water and energy are key to ensuring perennial and adaptable services for an ever-growing global population.

It is inevitable to even the luddites among us that fast-paced technology will always be ahead of slower-paced legislative and regulatory processes. Our legislators acknowledge this and attempt to ensure that legislation is flexible enough to provide a sufficiently certain framework for today, while being careful to not stifle tomorrow’s innovation.

In reality, we must ask ourselves if this translates into frameworks that are continuously fit for the nature of the industries they govern. The answer is only if legislators are conscious of major movements in both technology and the consumption preferences of consumers, and work with them.

Europe’s framework is showing signs of failing to keep up with the needs of consumers. Its service-oriented approach to regulation has, until now, ensured that competitors are free to provide telecoms and content services over a variety of platforms, such as the internet or satellite, in contrast with other jurisdictions where the legality of services is still very much linked to the method of transmission.

This welcome flexibility does, however, introduce some uncertainty. An example of this arises when over-the-top (OTT) services such as Skype and WhatsApp – considered by the current framework to be data services – become suspiciously similar to traditional voice services, yet bear none of the regulation imposed on the latter.

The impact of other OTT services – including Netflix, YouTube and Facebook – is also an issue that Ofcom has accepted needs to be addressed. Ten years since its last strategic review, Ofcom has initiated a fresh review in order to redefine and recalibrate its objectives, to ensure they are in sync with today’s vastly different market. This is a welcome move.

Of no surprise is the fact that the internet and OTT services form part of this review, against a framework that has changed little in the past decade. Ofcom’s chief executive has said that the organisation will be examining ‘if there is scope for a lighter approach, given the entry of newer players and technology that we wouldn’t have dreamt of a few years ago’. In other words, not even the regulator could predict the speed of recent technological shifts.

The ongoing clash between pirates, consumers and the content industry has not resulted in either side being able to assert its model as the norm. Instead, consumers continue to consume media content through a variety of models, namely: legal streaming content platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and Spotify; illegal sharing online; and the classic model of hard copies for a per-unit price.

Attempts at shifting the balance of law in favour of the content industry (court orders for website blocking and IP account identity disclosure) are easily circumvented and generally fail to understand the motivations of everyday consumers who wish to consume content anywhere, any time and not within the geographic and technological limitations that content providers would like to impose.

As such, the present legal framework governing intellectual property is ill-equipped to deal with the technology and the motivations that allow users to defeat its purpose, and this trend will only continue unless changes to both business models and legislation are introduced in a complementary fashion. There is work to be done both here and on the upcoming adoption of machine-to-machine technologies allowing the connectivity of huge numbers of goods – the so-called ‘internet of things’.

It is in this environment, where law meets fast-moving technology, that we, as lawyers, need to be equipped to provide advice that goes beyond the purely legal. In these areas, we need to be prepared to provide advocacy and policy advice, as well as demonstrating an understanding of consumer behavioural economics and new business models and the emerging environment. And the regulators need to find ways to keep up.

Stephen Gibb is chief executive at Shepherd and Wedderburn