THE tough trading conditions driving mergers and partner defections in the Scottish legal sector are starkly underlined in the latest research.

The Royal Bank of Scotland data does not quite cover the very top end of the Scottish market - where, let us not forget, McGrigors has already merged with Pinsent Masons, and Dundas & Wilson will soon formalise its tie-up with CMS Cameron McKenna - but lays out the difficulties many lawyers in this country are dealing with.

Chunky fees from before the recession are yet to return while competition from English and domestic rivals is intensifying. Alongside this, clients are demanding less for more, safe in the knowledge other firms will gladly take their business

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While there are still some firms which are able to increase fees, many are stuck with flat or reducing income.

It is not all doom and gloom though. After several years of cutting costs to tailor their cloth more closely with the economic reality, Scottish firms are managing to eke out increases in profits while 92% of all firms across the UK expect profits to grow or be steady in 2014.

It would appear becoming a law firm partner is no longer a job for life with it now being unusual for a week to pass without defections or departures in the Scottish scene. Whether younger staff are still willing to wait for partnership opportunities remains to be seen but the legal sector cannot afford to lose its brightest talents.

There is little doubt the re-shaping of the Scottish legal world still has some way to run.