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Business lawyers form special independence units

Published on 24 December 2012

SPECIALIST constitutional units have been set up in some of Scotland's largest commercial law firms to provide advice on the potential impacts of the independence referendum.

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Top-tier players such as Maclay Murray and Spens (MMS) and Shepherd and Wedderburn are among those to have put together teams of senior lawyers from a range of different disciplines.

The move comes in response to an increasing demand for information from businesses keen to prepare long-term plans for whatever situation emerges after the 2014 vote.

Chris Smylie, chief executive of MMS, said: "This is of course an issue of huge importance to our clients.

"We have a senior group which is tasked with communicating with our client base on the implications of the independence debate - As you would expect, that group's research feeds into and informs the firm's strategic decision-making."

Stephen Gibb, chief executive at Shepherd and Wedderburn, said: "We have established a constitutional unit consisting of lawyers from various disciplines and offices within the firm, which continues to keep abreast of the independence debate and advises our clients accordingly."

The Law Society of Scotland said it had a neutral stance on independence but was organising a series of round-table discussions to debate referendum-related issues it feels need to be aired.

Chief executive Lorna Jack said: "These include EU membership and what our other international obligations might be; the impact independence is likely to have on Scottish business; and the economy as a whole.

"We will consider what restructuring might be required regarding the Scottish Parliament and also to our justice system, and how independence would affect our education system.

"Of course, as part of these discussions we will also want to discuss what the potential outcomes of a No vote might be for Scotland as, even if the majority of voters choose to remain within the UK, there will undoubtedly be further constitutional change."

Philip Rodney, chairman of Burness Paull and Williamsons, said his firm expects more questions on the referendum in 2013 than it had in 2012, but he is worried businesses may delay spending until there is greater certainty on Scotland's future.

He said: "We have received enquiries from clients about the potential impact of independence, for example in relation to company bids and property investment decisions.

"[A] concern that I have is the postponement of investment decisions by companies until after the referendum in 2014."

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