Big deals help law firm Burness Paull ride out lockdown

Big ticket corporate deals have helped Scottish legal heavyweight Burness Paull return to profits growth despite the disruption caused by lockdown.

Monday, 28th September 2020, 7:30 am
We are fortunate our financial model is a conservative and robust one, says chairman Peter Lawson. Picture: contributed.
We are fortunate our financial model is a conservative and robust one, says chairman Peter Lawson. Picture: contributed.

The practice, one of the big three independents in Scotland, also said its investment in technology in recent years had helped it offset the impact of the pandemic.

Burness Paull saw revenues increase by 3 per cent to £60.5 million in the financial year ending 31 July, despite the period including almost five months of working in lockdown. Profits rose 14 per cent to £25m following a dip the previous year. Partner payouts won’t be revealed until full accounts are filed in March.

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During the summer, the firm’s top equity partners injected cash into the practice in a fundraising move to reinforce its finances in the face of Covid-19’s impact. Headcount during the year edged up from 543 to 547. Figures from the firm come in the wake of results from big Scottish rivals Brodies and Shepherd & Wedderburn, which both also saw turnover increase.

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Burness Paull chairman Peter Lawson said the impact of the pandemic meant it had been a “hugely challenging period” but the high-profile transactions worked on during lockdown – including the £42m Aim flotation of Scottish technology company Calnex Solutions – were testimony to the firm’s resilience.

“Investment in automation has really paid off and made us much more efficient during deals,” he said. “Clients want problems solved and we are freeing up lawyers at all levels to work on doing the really important stuff, rather than getting bogged down in admin.”

Lawson said economic uncertainty was driving a need for legal advice from businesses and organisations in sectors heavily disrupted by the pandemic.“Some practice areas saw an initial drop in demand, especially the more transactional ones, but not as drastically as many predicted, and we’ve since seen an uptick across those areas as lockdown measures have been gradually eased,” he said.

Other corporate deals the firm worked on during the year include a number of transactions involving the Scottish Investment Bank, including the sale of Edinburgh-headquartered battery technology firm Dukosi.

Latest figures from Brodies show it saw turnover increase by 7 per cent to £82m in its most recent financial year, with profits before partner distributions up 3 per cent to £38.5m, although investment in staff saw profits per equity partner dip 4 per cent to £680,000. Shepherd & Wedderburn saw turnover grow 2 per cent to £56.9m with profits before partner distributions falling 1.7 per cent to £24m.

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