Company Culture | Scottish Firms
Some Scottish firms come into existence via mergers, with national, traditionally City-based firms joining forces with Scottish firms to broaden their client bases and to take their businesses in a new, northerly direction. Other Scottish firms are home-grown in Scotland, expanding between the three main cities with legal hubs—Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Depending on which type of Scottish firm you work at out of these two groups, the company culture is likely to be different.
Scottish firms tend to pay lower salaries than their City-based counterparts—but there are some definite perks to picking a Scottish firm, including more relaxed working hours, and lower living costs in Scottish cities compared to London. Over half of the registered solicitors in Scotland work in firms with 10 partners or less; if you’re after a smaller office where you know all of your colleagues, a Scottish firm could be for you.
Working in Glasgow or Edinburgh, you’ll find a range of corporate and individual clients. While Scotland’s financial sector was shaken to its foundations by the recession, it is slowly rebuilding, so if it’s finance law you’re after, you’ll find options in Edinburgh. Aberdeen offers a slightly different experience—a lot of the industry focus there is on oil and gas, leading to opportunities within energy law.
With many Scottish firms recently merging with national and international firms, you’ll find a number of full-service law firms, as well as specialist ‘hubs’ devoted to a specific area of practice. Some of these firms are vast, with similar numbers to their London counterparts, whereas others operate on a smaller scale, giving you the chance to work for a huge firm, but from within a smaller team.
Whatever firm you end up working for, it’s advisable to join the Law Society of Scotland—a far-reaching unifying body which provides social events, educational materials and research for lawyers in Scotland.
Type of Work | Scottish Firms
Firstly (and most importantly), as a solicitor or trainee at a Scottish firm, you’ll be working in a different jurisdiction to firms in England. The Scottish legal system differs from the English one on a number of points, which is why you have to have an LLB in Scots law, or complete the relevant re-qualification exams, to practice at a Scottish firm.
In a nutshell, the difference between Scots law and English law is that, while English law derives from the principles of common law, Scots law is a mix of common law and civil law. In addition, Scotland has its own legislative powers over certain matters in relation to its government, as determined by the devolution brought about by the Scotland Act 1998.
In practice, areas such as family law and real estate law pan out slightly differently in Scotland, due to Scots law having roots in Roman law rather than Common law. If you’re moving to Scots law after qualifying in England, you’ll have to get your head around the differences.
Scotland as a country has its own unique legal needs. A devolved government, a financial sector rebuilding following the recession, and a plethora of small businesses and start-ups are just some potential areas of work. Working in Aberdeen will mean being at the forefront of energy law; the north-eastern port city lies close to the North Sea, making it a lucrative hub for North Sea oil and gas extraction.
The Scottish cities see a steady stream of students each year, and combined with their respective working populations, these new arrivals mean there will always be demand in Scotland for real estate and construction law. Outside of the cities, you could find yourself working in niche practice areas such as rural law.
Where will I be working? | Scottish Firms
You could be working a Scottish branch of a City-based firm, an independent Scottish firm, or a small regional firm. You could also find yourself working for the Government Legal Service for Scotland, or taking on an in-house position within a major, scotland-based company.
Indeed, over half of the solicitors working in private practice in Scotland work in firms with 10 or fewer partners. If you’re looking to enjoy a more relaxed working environment with a close network of individuals and businesses as clients, this option could be for you. There are opportunities available in such firms in the major cities, such as Edinburgh and Scotland, but also across smaller regions within Scotland, such as the Highlands and Islands.
Unsurprisingly, your main living and working base will be Scotland. This could mean a major city—the capital, Edinburgh, offers an intimate and historic experience of city life, while Glasgow is larger, with a rich industrial history sitting alongside a burgeoning art and music scene. Aberdeen completes the trifecta of major cities in Scotland offering ample legal options; its position on the North Eastern coast together with its past and present status as a port town makes for a completely different experience to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
However, it’s not all about the big city life - Scotland is riddled with smaller towns, villages, as well as miles of countryside. If you don’t fancy the metropolitan life, you could investigate options at a high street law firm away from the hustle and bustle.
Is this the right type of firm for me?
First of all, there’s a key component to becoming a solicitor in Scotland —you’ll need to have studied an LLB in Scots Law (typically an option at Scottish universities). If you have not done so, but are qualified as a solicitor elsewhere in the UK, you will need to take the Intra-UK Exam—an open book exam which consists of three papers. You can read more about this here. Seeking a Scottish law traineeship with an LLB from an English or Welsh university is a little more complex.
A Scottish law firm could be for you if…
- You did your LLB in Scots law, and don’t want to leave the UK’s most northerly country!
- You’re looking for slightly more relaxed hours than those on offer at London-based firms.
- Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen appeal to you.
You may want to reconsider if…
- You don’t have a qualifying law degree in Scots law—and you're not keen on taking the time to qualify into Scotland (see above).
- You’re after a big salary—trainees at Scottish firms tend to start off with lower salaries compared to London counterparts.
- You’re not a fan of snow—Scotland has notoriously cold winters…