THE BREXIT vote defined the 2016 year for most commercial law firms and its ramifications were still being felt in 2017.

Although most legal businesses at the top end of the market said that clients were carrying on regardless of the UK’s impending exit from the European Union, the dampening effect the decision has had on business more generally was reflected in their results for the 2016/17 year.

While Gillespie Macandrew reported an 8.6 per cent rise in turnover, from £10.5 million to £11.4m, across the board growth was more muted, with Harper Macleod’s turnover rising by 3.5 per cent, Morton Fraser’s by 2.5 per cent and Burness Paull’s by one per cent.

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Anderson Strathern, meanwhile, reported no growth at all while Shepherd and Wedderburn saw its revenues decline by five per cent.

But while these firms may have been hunkering down to try to ensure the current financial year is a more prosperous one, 2017 was not kind to at least two firms, with Hamilton Burns and Pagan Osborne both going into administration during the year.

Hamilton Burns, which was previously run by former SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, called in the administrators in May after a drop off in legal aid work meant it was unable to service its debts.

While two directors and two trainees managed to secure positions at Glasgow immigration firm Latta Law and directors Lorraine Kelly and Gary Moss took one trainee to set up new firm Moss & Kelly Solicitors, in total nine staff - two qualified lawyers and seven administrative workers - ended up being made redundant.

There were further job losses following the administration of Fife firm Pagan Osborne, despite Dundee-based Thorntons buying the bulk of the firm out of administration.

Pagan Osborne was put into administration at the start of September after being unable to pay off a number of sub-prime loans taken out to help with cashflow in the wake of the downturn in the property market.

With the exception of chief executive Alistair Morris, all of Pagan Osborne’s 123 lawyers and staff transferred to Thorntons, although over 50 were ultimately made redundant.

Diversity continued to be one of the watchwords of the profession in 2017, with two organisations being established to help foster better representation of minority groups.

Advocate Usman Tariq was the driving force behind the Scottish Ethnic Minority Lawyers Association (Semla) while Boyd Jackson trainee Drew McCusker set up cross-sector LGBT+ group The Glass Network.

Both are designed to not only raise awareness of the positive impact diverse workforces have on businesses but also to demonstrate to people from minority groups that the law is open to them as a career choice.

Speaking to The Herald ahead of Semla’s launch Mr Tariq said he had decided to set up the group after mentoring students and discovering that among ethnic minorities “there is a constant theme of a lack of knowledge about the profession”.

Mr McCusker echoed that sentiment, saying he had chosen to set up The Glass Network while working at Drummond Miller in 2015 after realising that he “didn’t know what an LGBT+ lawyer could achieve” because there was no visibility of LGBT+ lawyers in the profession.

“It was sad for me coming into the profession and not seeing [LGBT+ role models] there,” he said.

“It was also an obvious opportunity – I could be that person.”

The law itself has also come under scrutiny in the past year, with the Scottish Law Commission ending the year by issuing a draft bill on how defamation law could be reformed and publishing a report into proposed changes to the law on moveable transactions.

The former is seeking to update the law on defamation to take account of the role social media plays in publishing while the latter aims to remove barriers that stop entrepreneurs from raising finance on so-called moveable property such as intellectual property.

Law Commission president Lord Pentland said the defamation update was required because “faster and easier ways of communicating have thrown up new challenges for the law”.

Meanwhile, commissioner Andrew Steven, who led the moveable transactions project, said the law in that area requires a revamp because “Scotland has fallen considerably behind modern international standards”.