It was very sad to hear of the demise yesterday of another well known Scottish law firm. Tods Murray was formed in 1856 and by 2014 was ranked the 14th top Scottish law firm by The Lawyer based on turnover of £12.4 million. The Scotsman reported in January 2014 that Tods Murray grew its pre-tax profits to £2.5 million in the year to 31 March 2013 from £2.3m in the previous 12 months. But apparently such turnover and profit was not sufficient to keep the wolves from the door. It should be born in mind that, as reported in The Scotsman in November 2011, financial returns at Tods Murray had fallen from a high in 2007 when turnover hit £22.5m and gave the firm a net profit of £8.6m. Tods Murray went into Administration yesterday and was immediately acquired by Shepherd & Wedderburn. Whilst the 160 or so Tods Murray staff are transferring immediately to Shepherd & Wedderburn reports suggest that an initial 50 redundancies are likely.
Tom MacLennan and Iain Fraser, partners with FRP Advisory, were appointed as joint administrators to Tods Murray. As reported in The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, Mr MacLennan said:
Tods Murray had exhausted every option to turn the business around, and was faced with an unsustainable gap between high fixed costs and income. Administration was the only alternative for the firm, but we are delighted that Shepherd & Wedderburn has acquired the Tods Murray business, and will provide the partners and staff with a stronger platform from which to service their clients.
The demise of Tods Murray was in stark contrast to the news announced just over a week ago when Caroline Shand joined the firm as partner from global law firm Nabarro. The Daily Record quoted Tods Murray, executive partner David Dunsire, saying:
It is a very exciting time just now.
Confidence has been regained in the economy and clients are looking for opportunities.
We are delighted to welcome Caroline to bolster our top level service and legal guidance to the real estate finance market.
We have an unparalleled team and we are very much looking forward to the future.
David Dunsire was apparently unaware that Tods Murray would no longer exist just over one week later.
Rumours of a possible administration at Tods Murray circulated back in 2009 with David Dunsire having to write an open letter to the Scotland on Sunday in March of that year:
We have heard that we are on our bank’s ‘at risk’ register, that partners have refused to inject more cash into the firm and that we are, indeed, about to go into administration. All of this is totally untrue. The firm is financially stable.
In January 2013 Tods Murray were apparently bouncing back with David Dunsire telling The Scotsman:
We have taken steps over several years to restructure and build a lean and effective practice which leaves us well placed, I believe, to emerge from this recession stronger and fitter as we have done with others during our 150 year history.
In an article published in 2009, entitled ‘Lawyers ponder the future as knife is wielded‘, Ian Fraser wrote:
One source said that Scotland’s law firms are currently in “no man’s land”. While dealmaking and all the other boom-time activities dried up long ago, they are still awaiting the “tipping point” — when a spate of corporate restructuring and widespread insolvencies starts to fill the void. For some of the over-stretched firms, the wait might just prove too long.
It clearly did for Tods Murray.
Tods Murray joins other high profile law firm casualties in Scotland in recent times such as Ross Harper and Semple Fraser. Other Scottish law firm names that have vanished through merger with larger English firms include Biggart Baillie, McGrigor Donald (latterly known as McGrigors) and Dundas & Wilson.
I don’t imagine for one minute that this is the last we have seen of such casualties. Why though are these problems besetting large long established law firms? I may consider that in more detail in a future blog post. In the meantime your views are welcome.