THE leaders of newly merged Scottish law firm Morton Fraser MacRoberts have declared that the deal which brought their two former organisations together was founded on “ambition” and not a defensive move.

Morton Fraser and MacRoberts, which were two of the oldest law firms in Scotland, announced their merger in September under a deal that created a new independent “top four” player north of the Border.

Morton Fraser MacRoberts, which officially comes into existence today (November 1), has a team of 480 staff, including 250 solicitors. It is led by Chris Harte, formerly chief executive of Morton Fraser, and former MacRoberts managing partner Neil Kennedy, who has assumed the role of chief operating officer.

In an exclusive interview with The Herald, the duo outlined the opportunity for growth they see at the new firm and emphasised that the deal – “a genuine merger” – was not a defensive play. Both firms, they said, entered into the merger performing well and trading with “momentum”.

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Prior to the deal, the most recent accounts for Morton Fraser showed that the firm reported record fee income of £23.9 million for the year ended April 30, 2022. MacRoberts turned over £20.6m over the same period.

Mr Harte said: “These things can sometimes be done out of defensiveness or fear. We felt we wanted to do this on the front foot, and we have some positive momentum.”

Mr Kennedy agreed and said the timing had been right. He said: “Both firms' revenues have been growing. In the past few years, our combined revenues have grown at about 20%, so the combined business had a lot of momentum to take into this merger. I think that is a really healthy place to be. The timing is good for the combination in that regard.”

He added: “It is all about ambition and we have been stating that internally. That represents the sell-through ambition of the combination, the ambition of the teams and their business plans, and the ambition of the individuals - lawyers and non-lawyers.”

While today is a natural “milestone” for the new firm, it is felt that the benefits of the combination will be realised in the fullness time.

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Mr Harte said: “We have been acutely conscious, and we have been saying to all of our people, that Wednesday is a big milestone, but it is just the start of the next phase of creating a single business. That is not going to happen by a magic wand on the stroke of midnight. But it is a gear change, a step change – it is that kind of thing. It is definitely different, but [there is] a lot still to do.”

Both Mr Kennedy, who had been a mergers and acquisitions lawyer before becoming managing partner of MacRoberts, and Mr Harte, had experience of deals and mergers before bringing Morton Fraser and MacRoberts together. But this deal is the biggest one they have worked on yet.

Mr Harte said: “What we have found that is different about this, first of all, is that it is a genuine merger. Rather than deciding that one firm will fold into or fit into the other firm’s way of doing things, what we have had to do here, and will continue to do post-November 1, is almost disrupt ourselves by saying, okay, we have each got ways of doing things, can we pick the best from each, or indeed is there a third way… to do it a different way?

“We actually need to think about it afresh and challenging ourselves about that.”

While there has been positive feedback internally regarding the merger within both firms, Mr Kennedy said that “people know that it brings change, and you have to communicate with people transparently as much as possible during a period of change".

"But overall, people are very positive about it.”

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He added: “Much like we said in relation to our own people, the market can see the sense in what we are doing and how complementary the businesses are.”

The new firm has not ruled out adding more to the team, though Mr Harte said: “What this has always been about, is that it has given us a stronger platform. The question from there will be, what do you want to do with that platform? Where do you want to go next?

"Our first priority is to create a single firm mentality. We are both very long-established firms and we both have the positive that people tend to stay with our respective firms for quite long times and feel very connected to them and loyal to them. So we bring that legacy of long-established firms and have the opportunity to create something new.”

The leaders report that colleagues from the respective firms have been collaborating well since the merger was first announced.

Mr Kennedy said: “That has been coming through really week-by-week since we made our announcement. That was a real confidence builder and it is only intensifying as our teams begin to talk to each other and clients more.

“If anything, it tells us we have really got to keep communicating with clients and among one another to really make the most of the platform and the opportunity we are creating. It has been a really encouraging start.”