THE FORMER chief executive of Maclay Murray & Spens (MMS) has said he led his firm into a deal with global giant Dentons because of the dwindling number of opportunities for it to win and retain clients on its own.

Kenneth Shand, who is now Scotland senior partner at Dentons after the firm took over MMS this week, said the deal had given MMS’s lawyers “a much stronger UK platform from which to operate”.

“We had a decent sized London office but we were primarily a Scottish law firm and were restricted,” Mr Shand said.

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He added that this meant the firm did not have “the strongest clients”, saying “where you don’t have the best clients you don’t have the best business”.

Mr Shand said that the reason for a weakening client-base north of the Border is that UK and international businesses are increasingly streamlining the way they procure legal services.

While in the past many would have retained a panel of firms with a separate roster of Scottish advisers, there has been a growing trend for in-house legal departments to hand work to smaller numbers of advisers who can provide advice on a UK-wide basis.

“There are changing dynamics in the marketplace, particularly around procurement, and that has seen rapid change in the last three years,” Mr Shand said.

“This has been a driver from both ends of the telescope – from the Dentons end and the Maclays end – both have experienced the shrinking size of panels. At the extreme end one client went from 693 firms around the world to seven in one fell swoop.

“If you apply that to the marketplace we’ve been operating in in Scotland and the rest of the UK, clients like banks and utilities would typically have had a roster of 40 to 50 law firms and a specific Scottish panel within that – you might have had 50 law firms in the UK but a Scottish panel of five or six as well.

“Not only are they not 50 anymore - they are 12 or 15 - but they also don’t have a Scottish element.”

Though he said this had not been posing a problem to MMS “in the short term”, Mr Shand added that the firm could “see that that was the direction of travel and it wasn’t going to change”.

He said the firm, which previously held failed merger talks with English firms Bond Pearce (now Bond Dickinson) and Addleshaw Goddard, chose Dentons to face that challenge with because it liked its “cultural style and fit”.

“The polycentric nature of the organisation and its ‘in and of the community’ philosophy struck a chord with us,” Mr Shand said.

“We could see that that was something that would work well for our partner group, for the rest of our lawyers and staff, and for the client base that we service.”

Jeremy Cohen, the chief executive of Dentons’ UK and Middle East practice, explained that the firm calls itself polycentric because despite having 158 offices spread across 66 countries it does not have a headquarters.

“We don’t have a command and control structure,” Mr Cohen said.

He added that Dentons, which has also taken over firms in countries including Costa Rica, Georgia, Brazil and Myanmar this year, has looked to grow its footprint by taking over “firms that are really strong players in their own market”.

“We want to be in partnership with people who at the weekends are watching their kids playing rugby or whatever while standing next to their clients,” Mr Cohen said.

“It’s the opposite of the colonial strategy a lot of firms have adopted. We want it to feel like an English law firm in London, like a French law firm in Paris and a Singaporean law firm in Singapore.”

Dentons in its current form can trace its history back to the 2010 merger of English practice Denton Wilde Sapte and US firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, with the resulting entity - SNR Denton - embarking on an unrivalled global expansion path since 2012.

At that point SNR Denton merged with European practice Salans and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain, before scoring its greatest coup by combining with China’s largest firm, Dacheng, in 2015. It has since taken over firms in countries including Italy, Columbia, Australia and Peru.

Mr Cohen said “the journey from here is to try to move from being the largest firm in the world to being the leading firm”.