Monday Q&A

Holmes Mackillop is a long-established and growing Scottish law firm which provides an increasingly broad range of legal services.

Here director Ralph Riddiough, who studied law at the University of Edinburgh and qualified as a solicitor in 1999, outlines the firm's ambitions and how it is bidding to appeal to the next generation of legal talent in Scotland.

What is your business called?

Holmes Mackillop.

Where is it based?

We have offices in Glasgow city centre, Bishopbriggs, Giffnock, Johnstone, Milngavie and Prestwick. We have expanded from two offices to six in the last few years as a result of mergers and organic growth.

What does it produce/do?

Established more than 200 years ago, Holmes Mackillop is an independent firm of Scottish solicitors. From buying and selling homes and businesses to dealing with wills, powers of attorney and wealth management, we assist too with commercial litigation and family matters like divorce. More recently, we have moved into providing legal expertise in emerging markets like space and aerospace.

To whom does it sell?

We have clients across the UK in a huge variety of sectors and we act for both companies and individuals. People can either consult with us in person in our Glasgow headquarters or in one of our local offices, depending on what’s more convenient for them. Now that Teams and Zoom calls are part of the working norm, it’s become easier to advise people regardless of location.

What is its turnover?

We have grown the business steadily over the last three years assisted by the acquisition of two long-established and well-known legal practices, namely Campbell Riddell Breeze Paterson and Macfarlane & Co, and this has bolstered our turnover growth in line with expectations.

How many employees?


What were you doing before?

I have been a solicitor since I qualified in 1999. I have worked in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Ayrshire mainly in private practice as a corporate lawyer but I also had a very interesting spell as head of legal and democratic services at South Ayrshire Council. This opened my eyes to the benefits and challenges of working in-house, and taught me a lot about how things work in the public sector, particularly in a political organisation.

What do you least enjoy?

The ever-increasing pace of business life has come at a certain cost. Lockdown has increased our reliance on remote, rapid exchanges and I think we’ve lost something of the art of clarity and conversation. At Holmes Mackillop we try to make a point of taking the time to meet people face to face when possible too, at least once!

What are your ambitions for the firm?

The company is in a really exciting position and there is a positive energy within the firm. We’re actively looking for staff, for instance, to help us with our growing client base. As some directors approach retirement in the next few years, this opens up opportunities for senior solicitors to progress.

We’re also committed to training the next generation. Three of our lawyers teach at the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, for instance, and we need solicitors at a more junior level too who will eventually take the firm into the future.

What single thing would most help?

Holmes Mackillop needs to raise its profile in the profession and make people aware of the benefits of working for, and being an owner of, a medium-sized law firm. At a firm like ours you have a unique blend of responsibility and support, and a great platform to grow the business.

No other legal firm in the west of Scotland offers the chance for specialist lawyers to live and work locally. You could, for instance, practice corporate law from one of our satellite offices and refer other areas of legal work to the appropriate specialist at our Glasgow headquarters.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

Law is fundamentally a people business and the old maxim rings true that there are as many points of view as there are people. Getting the best out of a legal situation often comes down to interpersonal and communication skills, along with a healthy dose of pragmatism. At the end of the day it’s about getting the best outcome for the client.

Where do you find yourself most at ease?

I am a keen amateur trombonist and playing in community and Salvation Army brass bands, and big bands, is a wonderful escape from the pressures of work. You have to properly switch off in order to really hear what is going on around you, so that you can blend in. Proper relaxation is vital for all aspects of health.

If you weren’t in your current role, what job would you most fancy?

I think I would have a lot of fun as a professional musician if I were good enough, which I’m not!

What phrase or quotation has inspired you the most?

“Grasp the thing and the words will follow” - this is the orator Cicero’s advice to jurists in ancient Rome and I’ve always found it helpful. It means if you can really master your brief, then presenting the arguments will be easy. It is a “substance over form” ideal that really chimes with me.

What is the best book you have ever read? Why is it the best?

I will never forget reading Under the Frog by Tibor Fischer. It is such an original, hilarious and unique work of fiction, and the use of language is absolutely fantastic. The novel was written in English but the author’s first language I believe is Hungarian. I read it when dictionaries were still a thing in book form, and I had to refer to mine frequently.

What has been your most challenging moment in life or business?

I know what it is like to lose a job with a mortgage and young family to support and that is probably where the challenges in my life and business have collided most acutely. Having those responsibilities to discharge certainly focused the mind.

What do you now know that you wish you had known when starting out in your career?

Success is not a straight line. Play the long game.