Law firms, or even their chief executives, have not always seen the need to be user-friendly. So Chris Harte has adopted that as his watchword in leading midsized Morton Fraser forward in the post-crash era where Scottish lawyers can no longer take for granted the hands that feed them.

Real estate specialist Mr Harte, 43, one of two lawyers on the CBI Scotland council, says that body is “a good conduit for understanding what people are thinking, what is most concerning them”.

It was this principle which has guided the firm’s adoption of a “clarity and transparency” manifesto in advising - and billing – its clients.

“I would not want to feel I was setting a taxi off and running with no control or transparency over costs,” Mr Harte says.

“A lot of the time when you ask what frustrates clients, the themes are frustration around a lack of transparency in billing, and if you enter into anything with a lawyer you have lost control, and secondly advice being given which is not as clear as it might be, sitting on the fence or saying ‘here are five things you might want to do’.”

In surveys, he says, less than 10 per cent of people see the lowest price as the most important factor in hiring a lawyer. But what does matter is that advice is of genuine value. “The reason we go on about this internally is about consistency of delivery, people will tell you that this is what creates value in a brand.”

West Lothian-born Mr Harte studied law at Aberdeen and went to Morton Fraser as a trainee. He was elected chief executive for a three-year term at the start of 2013, just as the firm joined the legal sector’s merger party by absorbing Scotland’s oldest firm Macdonalds. That added 50 staff and helped push revenues up by 24per cent and profits by 42 per cent in 2013.

“We see ourselves as being a strong Scottish firm rather than looking to tie up with a larger UK or international player as some of our peer firms have done,” Mr Harte says. “It’s about what you want to do for your clients and having reached that view the question is in what areas can that kind of firm compete strongly. Commercial real estate is one example – it doesn’t mean we can get it to ourselves so we need to avoid bemoaning the fact we are in a competitive market-place where clients won’t simply pay what you like...there was a time when some of these commercial pressures were less acute and like a lot of businesses there was probably a degree of flabbiness.”

The banking and finance team competes with big UK firms in asset, invoice and real estate-backed financing work as well as more mainstream banking. “We are still on the panels for all the UK clearing banks and they are coming back to health,” Mr Harte says. Public sector and private client work are among the firm’s other strengths. “Those areas were not immune but didn’t take the pain to the same degree. The reality is we had a bit less boom and a bit less bust. We weren’t the most profitable firm in Scotland but we were doing OK.”

In his first full year at the helm, the firm became debt-free, enabling it to catch up on investment in new software, and plan for new hires.

Morton Fraser benefited from the big league merger activity when it attracted a five-strong property team from Dundas & Wilson on its tie-up with CMS Cameron McKenna, and added significant hires to its private client practice.

In wealth management, as well as estate agency, firms already face “huge competition” from non-law firms, Mr Harte says, so further liberalisation brings no new fears.

“I am trying to be very glass half-full today ,” he smiles. “The pressures are what optimises your performance. We are a long-established firm, what we have to do is make sure that is a valuable thing as opposed to it making us old-fashioned in our thinking.”

Last year the firm, whose clients include Diageo, Royal Mail, Ministry of Defence, Transport Scotland, Tesco, and Scottish Canals, unveiled a 20 per cent rise in net profit to £6.6million.

It handed out a 9per cent bonus in profit share, after a year which saw turnover rise 8 per cent to £18.3m, placing it in the top 10 independent Scottish firms, employing 175 in Edinburgh and 95 in Glasgow.

Mr Harte says: “I have been over 20 years with Morton Fraser and in my view one of the trends is that those firms who are succeeding appear to be willing to treat their business like a business, and that is not just about being hard-nosed and obsessed with the bottom line.”

He cites the firm’s liberal approach to flexible working which has helped ensure that of the firm’s 45 partners, a third are female, an exceptional ratio in the sector. Even part-time working or part-home working has not been seen as an inevitable barrier to promotion.

“Flexible working is right for the business as well as being what I believe is the morally right thing to do,” Mr Harte says. “The context is, can we win the battle for the talent that is out there, is flexible working more likely to help us, and in my view it is....and it is not just a female thing.

“Thus far it has not created tensions for us, and we adjust people’s remuneration to reflect the flexibility. If I used the term part-time they would probably punch me on the nose.”

He adds: “I don’t think we would get to a place where it would be cost-effective for everyone to work from home, there is a lot of value in being in an office. But the risk is you end up over-valuing it.”

As English firm Gateley’s becomes the first to float on the stock market, law firms on both sides of the Border continue to assess their strategies.

Mr Harte says: “We will see a lot of different things happening in the legal market, there won’t be any single model that is the right one – size, coverage funding profile – and there may be more Gateleys.”

He concludes: “We have come out of the downturn in a stronger position than we went in, and if you want to run under your own steam for a while you have to make sure your balance sheet allows you to do that, We would like to have a bash at continuing under our own steam over the medium-term...and being in control of our destiny.”