New chief at top law firm says profits on course to rise

26 March 2012

New chief at top law firm says profits on course to rise

Scotland on Sunday

Partners at “big five” Scottish law firm Shepherd & Wedderburn have elected Stephen Gibb as their next chief executive.

Gibb, who has served as deputy chief executive for the past three years, will replace Patrick Andrews on 1 May when he comes to the end of his second four-year term in the top job.

Shepherd & Wedderburn, which has 57 partners and about 420 staff in total, grew its turnover by 6 per cent to £37.3 million in the year to 30 June and swelled its profits by 16 per cent to £16 million.

Gibb told Scotland on Sunday that the firm is on course to increase its profits again in its current financial year and that it remains debt-free.

Carrying no bank lending would make Shepherd & Wedderburn a strong contender to take part in the mergers and acquisitions currently engulfing the Scottish legal sector.

McGrigors, Scotland’s largest law firm by turnover, will be swallowed up by larger London-based rival Pinsent Masons on 1 May, while Dundas & Wilson ended talks in October with Bircham Dyson Bell over a possible tie-up.

But Gibb is clear that the firm is not currently in any takeover talks.

“Never say never, but taking part in a merger isn’t high on our priorities list,” he said.

Gibb added that he would push ahead with the law firm’s focus on three key practice areas – energy, financial services and property – and that he was also looking to grow the size of the practice’s private client business, which executes wills and handles family trusts.

Two years ago, Shepherd & Wedderburn asked staff to take two weeks’ unpaid leave to help it through the recession, before later paying them for one of the weeks when its financial situation improved. Gibb said the firm had “turned a corner” with last year’s results and no longer needed to take such radical steps.

Shepherd & Wedderburn has a roster of big-name clients ranging from whisky distiller Chivas Brothers and brewing giant Heineken to oil explorer Cairn Energy and utilities firm ScottishPower.