HARPER Macleod has highlighted the opportunity to win work in Shetland’s vibrant economy after unveiling its acquisition of local law firm Dowle, Smith & Rutherford.

The Glasgow firm pointed to the Islands’ buoyant oil and gas, renewable energy, aquaculture and tourism sectors as attractions of the deal, which comes amid continuing consolidation in the Scottish legal sector.

It also broadens the geographical reach of the firm, building on its existing offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Thurso. Harper Macleod had signalled in May that it was looking to open offices in parts of Scotland where it did not have a physical presence as it published its latest results.

Harper Macleod chairman Lorne Crerar, who chairs Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said the diligence he had carried out ahead of the deal underlined the opportunity it offers the firm.

Mr Crerar said: “Shetland is a very active economic community, and we see that continuing.

“I did a lot of diligence. Colleagues went up and spoke to key intermediaries, looked at the economy and took the view that for a firm like Harper Macleod, there are significant opportunities in that local market. But it also widens our scope into the oil and gas market, particularly, and the renewable energy market.

“And for the firm’s profile as a whole, by now being in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Thurso and Shetland, it is adding a very unique and interesting perspective to a strategically-focused Scottish law firm delivering legal services throughout Scotland.”

Mr Crerar contrasted the current bleak outlook for the North Sea oil and gas industry with the position west of Shetland, where major fields are being brought to development.

He added: “The economic prognosis for the Shetland Isle remains very strong. [At] a firm like Harper Macleod, we do look at things rather differently and [take] very much a long-term view. We think it’s a good time.”

DSR, which is based in Lerwick’s St Olaf’s Hall, is a broad legal practice and one of Shetland’s leading estate agencies.

Mr Crerar highlighted the quality of 12-strong team Harper Macleod is inheriting from the firm on October 1. DSR partners Christopher Dowle and Paul Rutherford will be joining Harper Macleod the same capacity.

The duo built up a relationship with the Glasgow firm through its HM Connect referral network.

The DSR office in Lerwick will be renamed Harper Macleod incorporating Dowle, Smith & Rutherford.

Mr Rutherford said: “There has been a close bond between Dowle, Smith & Rutherford and Harper Macleod for many years and this integration is great news for our all of our clients and our people. The most important factor for us is being able to deliver excellence of service to our clients. Being part of such a successful business will give them access to a much greater range of expertise and strength in depth, while providing continuity of the service they have come to expect.

“Through Lorne and others, Harper Macleod knows the islands well and shares our vision, both for now and the future. We look forward to growing even stronger as part of such a renowned brand in the Scottish legal market.”

Harper Macleod’s move for DSR comes as the Scottish legal sector continues to feel the aftershocks of the financial crisis of 2008.

Glasgow firm McClure Naismith became the latest casualty when it went into administration last month, which led to many of its partners and solicitors being snapped up by rivals.

Harper Macleod itself picked up five partners from the stricken firm.

Asked if Harper Macleod, which acquired private client specialist Bird Semple last year, was on the lookout for other deals, Mr Crerar said it was not a pressing priority.

While he refused to rule out further acquisitions, he said its main focus would be on embedding the activity it has undertaken in the last six months, including the switch to a new Edinburgh office. The DSR deal takes its overall headcount to 400 staff.

Mr Crerar said: “We will see more change in the market, I’m very convinced of that, and as opportunities arise we will examine them [and look at] whether they fit into our model.

"Yes, we are in changing world, and we need to change with it.”