Key sectors impacted

Profits slip at Burness Paull amid tighter market conditions

Peter Lawson

Peter Lawson: ‘second period was materially better’

Law firm Burness Paull saw an 8% fall in profit in the last year as economic and political uncertainty impacted on two of its biggest markets.

The downturn in profit came in spite of a 2% rise in turnover for the year ending 31 July 2019 to £58.5 million from £57.6m in the previous 12 months. Profit fell to £22m from £23.8m.

Commenting on the firm’s results and tenth year of topline growth, Burness Paull chairman Peter Lawson said: “Economic and political uncertainty had a tangible impact on two of our biggest markets, namely oil and gas and commercial property.

“As a result the first six months of our financial year were relatively flat, with Brexit and oil price recovery delaying some investment decisions and taking a while to convert into activity.

“However, the second six month period was materially better as clients adjusted to uncertainty being the new norm and the gradual uptick in activity in the North Sea flowed into investment and transactional work.

“The fact that our corporate team had a record year, particularly in tech and international markets, and topped the Scottish legal deals table for the fourth consecutive year, is evidence that clients were bullishly responding to changes in their markets by investing.

“Current activity levels are encouraging, and with our strategic investments in people and tech over the past 12 months we are confident about stronger growth in the year ahead.”

The firm has made significant client-focused investments in new technology. Among the latest developments is the adoption of a full cloud computing strategy to increase security of its data, improve resilience and provide the business with a digital infrastructure that can be rapidly expanded to meet the needs of clients.

It has also been implementing state-of-the-art document automation driven by artificial intelligence, and a new practice management system to introduce a raft of new client and matter efficiencies.

Mr Lawson continued: “To achieve consistent growth over the past ten years is a real achievement for the firm given the wide-ranging changes in the legal sector and the economic and political uncertainty during that time. Being involved in advising major corporates over the past 20 years has taught me that long-term sustainability is the key driver for a successful business. Long-term investment is vital too, especially so for us given the pace of change within the legal sector.

“That’s why we have carried out a painstaking review process in partnership with clients to find out what support they are going to need from our firm over the next few years. We know many of them are weathering challenges in their businesses and have a big drive to reduce operational costs.

Technology is becoming an increasingly powerful enabler

– Peter Lawson

“Based on their feedback we have brought forward some major investment decisions relating to talent and technology in order to shape our service in response. We are now gradually re-engineering the firm for better long-term performance, starting with client-driven services.

“Technology is becoming an increasingly powerful enabler in legal services with benefits in terms of speed, accuracy and cost. By smart investment in better tech paired with the best people we can pass those benefits on to our clients, no matter whether they are based in Scotland, across the UK or internationally.”

The firm scored a series of high-profile new client wins and instructions including: winning work for blue-chip technology sector names such as C-Trip / Skyscanner and Zoopla / USwitch (ZPG Group) and acting as lead external lawyers to Dubai-based Dragon Oil (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Emirates National Oil Company) in connection with the acquisition of BP’s interest in 12 Egyptian concessions.

The firm also successfully represented Harry Potter author J K Rowling in civil litigation following the dismissal of her former PA, and advised Bluegem on the £300m sale of its stake in the iconic Liberty London fashion store; and advising on the House of Fraser administration.

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