By Kristy Dorsey

Brodies, Scotland’s largest independent law firm by income and headcount, says current activity is tracking ahead of projections made in March but results for the full year will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Unveiling its financial performance for the 12 months to April 30, managing partner Nick Scott said the numbers were pulled lower by the outbreak of Covid-19, which led to lockdown restrictions being imposed in the UK on March 16. However, the firm still managed a 7 per cent rise in turnover to £82 million, up from £76.9m previously.

Profits before partner distributions also edged higher, from £37.4m to £38.5m.

“Like many organisations, in January and February we were tracking a bit ahead of where we landed,” Mr Scott said. “There was a net reduction in activity.”

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The practice is dominated by its corporate and commercial, litigation and real estate lines of business, which each account for £20m to £25m of revenue. As the scale of the virus outbreak started to become apparent in March, Brodies undertook a review to estimate the impact on each segment of its operations.

Mr Scott said activity and cash collections have been “a bit” ahead of those projections, depending on the sector: “Some of those clients have got a really strong need for our support at the moment,” he explained.

The firm’s headcount stood at 728 people at the end of the financial year, including 108 partners. It has continued to add more people during the pandemic, with the headcount now at 745 following the intake of a new batch of trainees this week.

Brodies’ offices in Aberdeen, Brussels, Dingwall, Edinburgh and Glasgow have for the most part been empty since the end of April, with 700 of its people continuing to work from home while Government guidance in Scotland remains for the closure of non-essential offices. As lockdown restrictions have eased, there has been a small increase in one-off office-based meetings with clients where face-to-face contact is required.

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Mr Scott said the firm remains committed to its current locations, though the way in which they are used will likely shift away from day-to-day operations towards serving as hubs for collaboration.

“Looking across all sectors, it is interesting to think about how we will use offices going forward,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to review and reflect in a world where work is the thing you do, not where it is done.”

Preparations are continuing on Brodies’ new premises in Edinburgh. The firm expects to take up occupation at the Capital Square offices “some time” in the next calendar year, most likely in 2021.

Amid the dramatic shifts brought about by the health crisis, Mr Scott said clients are also starting to “really focus on the fact that we are leaving the EU at the end of the year”. Brodies has established an advisory group on this to meet the demand for advice in the event of various scenarios including a no-deal Brexit.

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Commenting on recommendations from a review released in March by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which found that lawyers in Scotland “may not currently be delivering good outcomes for people”, Mr Scott said there is general agreement “that there needs to be a better system for complaints handling”. Similar recommendations were made in the controversial Roberton Review of legal services regulation.

During the year to the end of April, Brodies delivered deals worth more than £15 billion. In terms of total revenue, about a third of Brodies’ income is generated from clients based outside of Scotland.

Notable transactions included the sale of 10 Central North Sea assets to Ithaca Energy, the sale of the Fairmont St Andrews hotel and golf resort to an investor from Hong Kong, and the sale of Northern Link’s majority shareholding in The Scottish Salmon Company to Oslo-listed Bakkafrost.