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Warning too many lawyers chasing fewer fees

THERE are too many lawyers chasing fewer fees in Scotland, making further consolidation likely on the Scottish legal scene, a report has found.

Subdued profits, lower fee income and reduced gearing have been highlighted by accountancy firm BDO in its review of Scottish law firms between 2008 and 2013.

BDO found the combined revenue of the top three firms in Scotland fell by 30% to £125.5 million in 2013 from £178.5m in 2007-2008.

It said the decline followed a "dramatic economic contraction in 2007/08", which contrasted with the "substantial fees" firms received from major banks and from the property-led expansion of the economy before the financial crash.

The survey found revenue per partner was down in seven of Scotland's top 15 firms in 2013, and for six of the firms which achieved growth the rise was less than 2%.

BDO noted that double-figure percentage declines in annual revenue remain commonplace.

Charles Barnett, professional services partner at BDO, said the continuing difficulties faced by law firms mean further consolidation is likely, signalling the mergers of McGrigors and Pinsent Mason and Dundas & Wilson and CMS Cameron McKenna are unlikely to be the last.

With turnover and partner revenue down, Mr Barnett said "perhaps more cuts are needed". He said: "Cutting lawyer numbers will help maintain attractive profits for the partners.

"However, not cutting costs is making many Scottish firms very attractive to potential suitors who see rich pickings in obvious cost cutting exercises and the economies of scale."

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