MERGERS have become a fact of life for Scottish law firms in recent years, with further consolidation expected to continue to redefine the sector.

For the firms involved that is generally good news, offering a means to not only progress as a business but, in many cases, to achieve greater financial stability too.

For the lawyers working at those businesses it can be a disruptive time, though, with the upending of working practices and the departure of long-serving colleagues impacting on staff morale.

It is something Toni Ashby, whose former firm Simpson & Marwick was taken over by London-headquartered Clyde & Co four years ago, has first-hand experience of.

Though she said the firm is in a stronger position in Scotland than it was previously, and that the people who remain at Clydes are happy to be there, Ms Ashby noted that there were a number of departures from the business in the aftermath of the deal going live. Having witnessed the impact that had on her and her colleagues, the occupational disease partner, who began her career at Thompsons Solicitors, decided to put herself forward for the newly created role of head of corporate responsibility and inclusion (CR&I) for Scotland earlier this year.

As part of that she has drawn up a schedule of events to get colleagues interacting on a social level in addition to running a programme of wellness initiatives to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, which began on Monday.

“It’s really important for us as we’ve undergone a period of extensive change since we merged in 2015,” she said.

“We have lost a lot of people over that time. There are various reasons for that and overall the firm is really healthy, but on the other hand it has affected staff and it has affected morale.

“Everything has changed and a lot of people struggled with that. The reaction we’ve had to everything we’ve run so far has been so good, and so many people want to get involved it’s clear that people are crying out for this.”

As well as running workshops focusing on areas such as mindfulness, Ms Ashby and her team are looking at ways of bringing the entire Scottish arm of the firm together to foster collegiality, with fundraising proving to be one of the best ways to do that.

“Our charity of the year is Place2B, which is a mental health charity for kids, but in June our main focus will be Pride so we’ll be fundraising for LGBT Youth Scotland,” she said.

“We’ve always had a dress-down day on a Friday but it was getting a bit tired and people weren’t wanting to pay their pound.

“We’ve changed it so that people get a raffle ticket and there’s a prize every week. It takes £9 away from the overall fund but it’s got everyone back on board and we’ve raised £350 for Place 2B so far.”

Ms Ashby said that part of her reasoning for taking on the CR&I role, which fits in with what the wider firm is doing on that front, was to broaden her experience away from fee earning and to help make a difference in areas that are of particular interest to her, such as diversity and inclusion.

“Most of the Scottish partners have roles over and above their fee-earning role,” she said. “I hadn’t done that but I had drafted a paper for the firm in Scotland on diversity. I thought it was my time to step up and it was an area of interest.”

Though Ms Ashby admitted that getting male partners and staff interested in coming along to events such as lunchtime yoga workshops has been challenging, she said a major focus will be trying to get equal representation at all levels of the firm.

As part of this, one of the changes she has helped put in place is a change to the way the firm is managed in Scotland, with a leadership team that had historically been exclusively male now equally split along gender lines.

“The firm has always had a male managing partner [in Scotland] and a male executive committee that looks at Scottish issues and how to grow in Scotland,” she said.

“Previously the executive was made up of the managing partner, finance director and the head of all the different departments, who were all male. Now it has been streamlined and has 50 per cent female partner representation. That was a very conscious thing.”