In this episode, David Lee is joined by Brodies former Managing Partner, Nick Scott, to discuss the firm's achievements in the last 12 months. 

From becoming the first Scottish headquartered firm to achieve £100 million in revenue, to the opening of a new office in the Middle East, Nick shares how the contributions of colleagues and clients alike serve as motivation and inspiration for the firm's future.

The information in this podcast was correct at the time of recording. The podcast and its content is for general information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. This episode was recorded on 26/07/2023.

David Lee, Podcast Host

David Lee hosts Podcasts by Brodies. David is an experienced journalist, writer and broadcaster and he is also the host of 'The Case Files' and 'What do I do if...' Podcasts by Brodies.

David Lee, Podcast Host]


00:00:05 David Lee, Host

Hello and welcome to Podcasts by Brodies. My name is David Lee and in this episode, I'm delighted to be joined by Brodies’ Managing Partner, Nick Scott.

It's been a big year for Brodies. It became the first Scottish law firm to break the £100million revenue milestone, has been recognised for the progress it's made in relation to inclusion and diversity, and it has opened its first office in the United Arab Emirates. There's a lot to discuss, so without further ado, welcome Nick.

00:00:37 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here.

00:00:40 David Lee, Host

So let's start with that 100 million milestone, Nick, it's a tremendous achievement, to what do you attribute that success? Why has Brodies got there?

00:00:52 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

So I guess what I would say is, we never accept that any of this was our right. We've always got a process in our firm where we light the fire under our boots and that process we call "a strategic review" and we run it every three years. That process keeps us honest, it challenges us, challenges everything in our firm, forces us to identify what winning might look like, and then we're very clear with ourselves about what it will take us to achieve that outcome. And then of course plans are one thing, but you have to have a system that monitors and polices the delivery of all of that and we are very thorough with ourselves in terms of making sure that the plans that we do write for ourselves we stick to.

00:01:30 David Lee, Host

Thank you for that, and obviously 100 million is a huge milestone, so I guess what next, where does Brodies go from here in terms of its growth and investment plans?

00:01:42 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

So we are the market leading law firm in Scotland. If you measure that on turnover or profit, colleague numbers, directory rankings, our roots as a business are in Scotland and our scale has been built from being the leading law firm in that country. So we'll never forget where we come from or talk down or write off the opportunities there are for us to continue to grow in our home jurisdiction.

We still think there are clients to win, there are markets to expand into and there are new colleagues that we can continue to recruit in Scotland. And we think it's certainly a huge competitive advantage for us that we hold to be the leading law firm in a jurisdiction. So certainly, more growth, more investment in Scotland is going to be on the cards for us in the years ahead.

But I guess also I would say that that strategic review process that I talked about earlier, we challenge ourselves to follow our clients and support them in the projects that they do beyond Scotland. And so, we'll certainly be focusing on areas where we think that we can continue to grow, where we have deep sectoral knowledge, clients who will use us, but most importantly that we can believe that we can recruit talented people of the same quality of the people that we've already got in our home jurisdiction in Scotland.

00:02:48 David Lee, Host

We'll talk about moving outside Scotland a little bit later on, but what I'm getting here, Nick is you're never standing still…

Brodies is always moving. It's always looking at that next strategic plan and personally you're in your sixth year now as Managing Partner, how do you reflect on that period and what's changed? It has been a period of great change in the world - what's changed in your six years and what are you particularly proud of in your tenure so far?

00:03:17 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

Yeah, it's certainly been a fair bit tumult over that time and a lot of change and whether you're looking at politics or the constitution and particularly the Scottish context and the economy.

But the demand for legal services we've always thought is driven by broader issues. So things like net zero, technological change, increasing focus for us on risk and reputation and then our global trends and flows of capital.

Then lastly, we've seen an awful lot of change in the expectations of clients and colleagues around things like equity, diversity and fairness.

And for us, though the job always remains the same, you listen to the clients, work out what's going to drive their demand for legal services and task ourselves are making progress no matter what that backdrop, that backstop might be.

I also think that a lot about what we value as a business has remained the same.

As to what I'm most proud of, I guess our reaction to the pandemic over those six years. We looked after all of the jobs and our firm, all of the salaries we still made progress as a firm.

Because I think we wanted to say to our colleagues, "a lot of a lot is changing in your lives and in your personal circumstances, we want to be the solid ground for you." So, I think that I would observe, is the thing about which I'm most proud.

00:04:30 David Lee, Host

And just to talk a little bit more about the pandemic, Nick, how did how did that affect what Brodies did as a business, how you operated?

How did you need to change certain things and in in terms of the way that the business operated on a day-to-day, week to week basis?

00:04:47 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

There's a whole number of things that that changed in the way we operated, but first, if you take it to why did we protect all the jobs, why did we not go for furlough?

I think that was because we took a decision that we wanted to make sure that the decisions we made through that process reflected our values. Those values challenged us to think about things from the perspective of our people, and to ask ourselves how they might want us to react to the circumstances in which we find and not to turn personal situations into contractual discussions.

So first and foremost, our approach to the pandemic and how we operated it as a business confirmed those values that we thought we had or always had.

As to how it's affected us in the way that we operated as a business, there was a number of things.

First, it reminded us that work is the thing that you do, not the place that you go to. And it reminded us particularly that there's a tremendous power comes from having a group of people who think they have a collective sense of purpose, that there is a cohesion - there is a value to collective effort and shared endeavour.

Like a lot of businesses, we were much more democratic, much more open about information. We were completely upfront with colleagues about the trading performance of the firm, about cash collections, about client activity, about projects that we were winning. That was designed to give our colleagues, you know, a greater sense of confidence in the business and the way you did that, that was by being more democratic with the information. And we certainly stuck to that.

Since the pandemic, and then of course the technological changes as well, so we were already on a journey (as many organisations where) we already had Teams, everyone pretty much had laptops, but the pandemic of course has speed up the adoption of all that new technology.

And certainly that's now given us the ability to be much more flexible about how and where people work, now that we have emerged from the pandemic.

00:06:34 David Lee, Host

Before we come on to that new way of working, you talked there about that cohesion of the firm, that importance of really holding people together…do you think your colleagues at Brodies really valued what the firm tried to do to keep them together, but also to look after their individual needs as well?

00:06:52 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

Certainly, that's the feedback we've had! We had it very strongly during the pandemic and certainly, I would observe, we've had that feedback since.

It became a mass communication exercise to make sure that we were constantly talking to colleagues about how the firm was going, about activity that was going on from the client side of things, to reassure people that we were one large team in one sense.

Our business development and marketing team who are usually focused on the outside and clients and outside world, turned an awful lot that inside and made sure that that it was a mass marketing campaign almost within the firm, to make sure that we were mapping out what would we be talking about this week or this month, to make sure there was a constant conversation going on within the firm that reassured people and made them feel that they were being looked after.

00:07:39 David Lee, Host

You talk quite a bit about the pandemic there and the changing ways of working, but how the culture of the firm stayed the same.

What about how things are shaping up now? How are those post-pandemic patterns of working settling down? And how is Brodies managing that balance that every business is facing - of giving your individual colleagues that increased flexibility that a lot of people are looking for, but making sure that that serves the collective needs of the firm as a whole?

00:08:10 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

First things first, it's great to see everyone in in person again and it's been great to welcome people back into our offices and we are now about 18 months after the last of the lockdown restrictions were relaxed and the occupancy levels in our offices now are as high as they were before the pandemic. Indeed, in some cases slightly higher.

I very much believe that this is a 3D model, not a 2D model. I think the value we get from human interaction cannot be discounted, so it's great for us to see people in the offices.

As to how we manage that, we don't prescribe particular days of the week or hours of the day that people should be spending physically in the office.

We have our own smart working principles, which guide our colleagues and encourage them to think about the needs of our clients; the need to collaborate; being effective and maintaining our collective sense of that identity which I talk about; training and mentoring younger colleagues and supporting the well-being of our individuals, but of teams as well.

What's really pleasing though is that having set those guidelines out and without being prescriptive to our colleagues, we actually have more people in the offices now than we had before the pandemic. I mean we are routinely running at about 60% plus occupancy across the week and on our busiest days (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) our offices have now got 80% plus occupancy.

It did make me reflect a few months ago. One day I was in the office and it was very, very busy and I and it struck me that an awful lot of the colleagues they were not in the office because they had to be there for a particular task they were doing, they were in their office because they wanted to be there and I thought that was a very pleasing sign.

00:09:48 David Lee, Host

You've touched on this a bit already, Nick, in terms of the culture of Brodies, how would you describe Brodies? What is the firms identity, what kind of firm is it and what is it like for the people who work there?

00:10:04 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

It's something I ask myself all the time, and you should be able to stop anybody, whether they work in the mail room or the cash room or the finance team or one of our legal teams or any other part of the business and ask them, what do you think of our firm? And I would hope that the answer would broadly be the same!

What would I hope that would be? I guess that it's a firm which judges this decision through the eyes of its people. One is outwardly seen to be successful, but inwardly is felt by its people to be compassionate.

And one that recognises that you can win whilst caring, but also that we recognise that there's more, we can always be doing to support the communities in which we live and also to support the talented people within our organisation.

00:10:46 David Lee, Host

And just to build on that, when you say, "reaching out to the communities in which we live," Brodies has been recognised recently for its commitment to inclusion and diversity in industry Excellence Awards.

But what does a culture of inclusion really look like in practise? Can you give some examples of how brodies makes it real?

00:11:05 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

Of course. First, we've got colleague network groups, which we established across the firm.

They give voice to underrepresented groups within the firm, and also it's been very pleasing to see that they are driving change in the firm. We consult with them whenever we're thinking about introducing new policies about working practises or the way in which the firm operates, and we also consult with them when we've got bigger structural decisions and that the firm might be making.

For example, you mentioned a new office in the United Arab Emirates. That was something we consulted with our colleague networks about.

The second thing we do, we partner with SEMLA, the Scottish Ethnic Minority Lawyers Association and also Black Professionals Scotland to provide work experience placements. What's very pleasing, is to see some of those students taking up full-time roles with the firm having been on work experience with us.

And thirdly, we were one of the founding members of PRIME, which is the legal industries social mobility organisation.

I personally was on the board there for six years and we still stay very actively involved with tha,t offering work experience to students from a socially mobile background.

And it's been very pleasing to see some of them then take up careers in the law from the inspiration that we might have provided, but also then some of them have actually been trainees and now qualified lawyers in our firm.

Another thing I would say is that we think very carefully about the language that we use in our firm, so that we value the contributions of everyone in our firm and also the tools that we use to support things like recruitment or as a management team. We make sure that we are inclusive in the language that we are.

00:12:47 David Lee, Host

It's good to hear those very practical examples of people moving into the firm and it's not just words on paper, it's actually people in the office.

And when we talk about those offices, you know, Brodies has also put a lot of emphasis on creating places that people actually want to work and you've won awards for the fit out at Capital Square in Edinburgh, you've moved into new offices in Inverness, you're investing in Aberdeen and Glasgow… why is it important o create those places people want to work in, and how do you involve colleagues in that process?

00:13:24 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

So as I already said, I think this is a 3D model. I think we are at our best when we have a combination of people working from home but also interacting with each other in person and so creating spaces which are fun to spend time in underpins that.

And yes, you're right. We won an award for our for our fit out in Capital Square in Edinburgh. In that regard, we effectively set the new benchmark for the standard that we wanted to create for our colleagues. And I guess physical offices, what that they are is a tangible sign of our investment in our people. So they see that the firm is investing in them and their working lives, and I think that's a very powerful thing for us to do as an organisation.

I think physically also the offices that we create are part of our brand as an employer, they helped us to attract new people to the firm as well as retaining the colleagues that we've already got. And I did say to the project team who were involved in the in the creation of Capital Square, they should always ask themselves one question - if the first thing about our firm that our potential recruits sees is one of our offices, what do we want that thought to be? I think it is - there's a firm that invests in its people, cares about their daily lives, and wants those to be taking place in places that they're proud of.

So with the award won in Edinburgh, we're now in the process of refitting our office in Glasgow to match the same standard, our office in Inverness was designed to the same standard and we will be refitting our Aberdeen office in the months ahead as well, again to bring it up to the standard that we've achieved in Edinburgh.

00:14:58 David Lee, Host

OK. Thank you, Nick. What about the really big new office move creating this international arm and moving into the United Arab Emirates? Why specifically did you make that move and are we likely to see more international Brodies offices opening?

00:15:13 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

I was saying earlier that Scotland is our home, it is our base, it's the place from which we've built the scale of our firm. But what being the leading law firm in a jurisdiction gives you is access to all sorts of clients, and often those clients themselves are not Scottish or based in Scotland, or indeed based in the UK. So the scale that we've reached in the Scottish market gives us access to a fabulous roster of clients who we service and look after in the UK, but we also get the opportunity to go with them or work with them in other jurisdictions.

And so the office in the Middle East is born of the fact that we have been involved with and working for clients in the Middle East, whether it's the UAE, or Oman, or Qatar, or Dubai. We've been working with them for a number of years now and we recognise that physical proximity to those clients is both helpful in terms of providing a service to them, but also it gives us more opportunities to do more work for them.

So the move to the UAE was built on some client relationships we've already got, but we see it as an opportunity for us to do far more for those existing clients, and also for other clients in the future.

As to other office locations, it will be the same analysis. Have we got clients with whom we can expand? Do we think that we can recruit people in those local jurisdictions that are as good as the people that we've got here? And do we think we'll have clients who would support us in that journey?

00:16:32 David Lee, Host

We've talked a lot about the culture at Brodies and the strategic reviews and how you're always looking forward, but what is it that is different about Brodies? What has made Brodies the biggest law firm in Scotland? What do you do differently to other firms to set you apart? Do you think?

00:16:54 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

From a business perspective and the running, the driving of the business at that point about strategic review is about never accepting that any of this is our right, the constant lighting of the fire under your boots, the driving of the business in three yearly cycles.

I think that's one of the key things that's driven the financial progress and the performance of the firm and challenges us to open up new locations or try and add new service lines or recruit new people, to constantly push to that tomorrow is going to be a better day - not because it just is, but because of the things that we're going to do. So I think that's one thing that I would regard ourselves - the discipline about that, I think is different about our firm as to the way that people might experience what's different about us,

I think first because of our size and where we are. You get a chance when you join our firm to work physically close to people who, some of whom are the very best lawyers in our country. Business Services colleagues likewise, so you get to be in physical proximity with the people you're working with.

Secondly our skill, I think and the things that you do within our firm really matter. We're of a scale where we are a big law firm, but not so big that individual contributions don't count or don't get noticed or don't get celebrated.

And the third thing I think is that we we've made a conscious decision as a firm, and as a business decision, to give our colleagues a balance between the things they do at work and their other ambitions. Whether those are investing in their own careers in training, knowledge development, business development, raising their profile, but also the things they do outside the office. So we've made a conscious, considered decision as an organisation to try and give colleagues a mix of the balance between work and other things.

00:18:35 David Lee, Host

And as part of that, Nick Brodies has taken a very specific approach to chargeable hours. Can you explain why you did that?

00:18:43 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

Yes. So this is about the legal side of our business.

Ultimately, lawyers charge their time, and we ask our clients to pay for that time. One of the metrics that that all law firms have is the amount of hours in the course of a year that they task their individual lawyers with achieving.

Our chargeable hours target is twelve hundred hours. It would be my observation in the Scottish market that the more typical average is fifteen or sixteen hundred hours. In London it's nearer two thousand or more. So by the industry standards the challenge we give to our people on the legal side, in terms of hours worked is considerably lower. That's because we are saying to our people, you have time in the course of a year to invest in your own training, your development and you know the business development, other things that you might want to do.

We want you to train and mentor the next generation of people, but that should not come at the price of you having to then spend your evening catching up your chargeable hours to make up for the time that you spent during a day doing other things that are also valuable to the firm.

And again, we're also saying to those people that we want you to have your evenings and your weekends free. Not every evening or weekend should be pledged to the cause of the firm.

We recognise that there are other things in your in your life that you might want to achieve, including, looking after family members, young children and all of the other things that people have.

And that's both because we think it's the right thing in terms of our values, and here is one of our values and because we think that's the right thing in addition to the way we want to manage our people, but it's also a competitive thing. We are trying to offer our people a different way of working in a different lifestyle from that that might be on offer in other law firms, and we think that's a that adds to our employer brand. It will help us attract more people to our firm and it helps us retain the people that we've got already.

00:20:29 David Lee, Host

We've talked a bit about the period of tumult and changes that we've all been through with the pandemic and a lot of other changes as well.

What about the next big changes and challenges that are coming over the hill? What would you identify as the really big ones and how will brodies respond?

00:20:49 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

So lots of people say that there are no challenges only opportunities - and there are challenges, but one has to see also that there are there are opportunities and I guess I picked two particular things in my mind at the moment.

A lot is being said firstly about technology, and what it its place in our lives, not just of course in our professional lives, but in our in our private lives.

It's clearly important to embrace new technology. It's important to recognise also where it fits and what it can and what it can't do. And I would observe for our sort of work, there's a difference between intelligence, which is the kind of thing that these AI tools that everyone is talking about can focus on, that's mostly about knowledge and sourcing information. But there's also a separate thing which is sentience, which for me is empathy, trust, understanding, knowledge of markets, the ability to persuade others to progress a project, settle the dispute, whatever it might be.

I think that second thing is the bit that humans bring in which clients want from us, so our starting mantra has always been on the technological side - we've got to embrace new technology and we should be quick to adopt it.

We should be open with our clients about where we're using it, but we should also be very careful and very clear about the value that is that we as an industry add and never be scared and be confident about that.

Second, the kind of challenge, but an opportunity I think also is net zero and the climate.

We have that of course as a challenge and an opportunity as a business. So our own carbon footprint and the way that we operate our business, we have commitments we've made to ourselves, to our colleagues, our clients and others expect us to honour.

But there's also the business side of that thing in terms of how we support clients. There's two sides to that. There's both the amazing transformation there is in how power is generated. So we are at a law firm which is involved in the oil industry, but also in the renewable side of the power generation industry. And there are huge business opportunities for us there.

But also, there's just the broader point about everyone that consumes power in every business, every human being, every organisation is a consumer of power and there are vast changes coming and we are changing the way we operate. But all of our clients are changing the way they live their lives or run their businesses or their organisations, and there are huge opportunities I think to come for the legal industry out of that.

00:23:09 David Lee, Host

And you've talked quite a bit, Nick, about the strategic plans that that Brodies do every three years and making sure that what they contain actually means something - that it's not just written down, it is something that is going to be embedded and is going to happen… so, as you as you look forward to that next strategic plan from 2024 onwards, what are the key elements of creating a good strategic plan?

00:23:37 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

The first thing that and you noted this is that they have to be more than just words on a page they have to actually mean something and you have to keep them alive in the organisation.

As important as having a strategic plan is, it's having a system or a process by which you keep yourself honest and you police delivery of it. We have quite a big planning exercise over the next two or three months in our firm as we launched those plans for the 2024 - 2027 period.

But I'll be speaking to all the authors of all of those plans every six weeks for the next three years to make sure that they are delivering what they said they're going to do, and you break that down across what are you going to do in year one, year two, year three…and then you hold people to account for the plans that they've made.

And in that as well, we make sure that we get the people who are closest to the relevant sector or part of the market to write the plans so that it's their words. It's not words that management puts to them and then says, "please do this." We it's people's own individual plans.

A few other things about those plans themselves. First, of course, they got to be underpinned by what it is clients tell us they're going to be doing and the demand for legal services. Second focus on those wider trends that I mentioned earlier in this conversation; energy transition; Net Zero; a focus on risk and reputation; those changing social currents within organisations; the focus on diversity, equity, fairness. Those longer-term trends are going to be as relevant to demand for legal services as any individual turnover, the economy or a change of political colour or whatever it might be.

The third thing is whatever the confluence of all those different factors are - client activity, market trends, wider economic shifts - the plans must describe for us what it looks like to be winning in each of our individual markets and tell us very in very categoric terms what it's going to take to achieve that winning status.

00:25:29 David Lee, Host

OK. Thanks very much. And what about you personally, Nick, what drives you? What do you think your strengths are as a lawyer, manager and a leader? I'm also quite interested in this idea of a managing partner and a chair of a firm, and that dynamic between yourself and Christine O'Neill as the chair of Brodies.

What drives you? What are your attributes and how do you and Christine work together to the best effect for the firm's future?

00:26:00 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

So I was a real estate lawyer before I became managing partner. I was head of the real estate practice for eight years before I became managing partner as well.

So about 20 odd years on the tools doing real estate deals and I really liked it. I liked the clients, I liked the work, I liked the fact that you could walk down the street and point at buildings that you've been involved in our projects that you might have helped come to fruition.

So I enjoyed all of that, but increasingly what I recognised when I was doing that is the thing that really gave me the satisfaction was the people and the progress that you were making with the people.

So I think the most important thing about being a leader of people is that you have to be interested in them, you have to be excited by the possibilities for them and the chance to really kind of help them make progress in their own individual careers.

As to our chair, I think it's important that folks feel that the managing partner and the chair work as one team, that we are aligned. I do think that is the case between I and Christine. But as well as being head of our of our firm, Christine is our moral compass and someone who, by their presence and our firm and the example that they said I think encourages us all to just try and be a little bit better at what it is that we do.

So whether on any initiative we have in the firm and whatever idea might have in my head, Christine is always the first person I speak to about it and the last person I speak to about it, and it is critical, I think, to our role that I make sure that I'm always keeping her informed as to things that are going on in the firm and that she's never blindsided by anything that might be going in going on in the firm.

And certainly I would hope our partners, our colleagues, would observe that Christine and I work, you know, hand in glove together that we are aligned on any key decision or initiative that the firm is involved.

00:27:42 David Lee, Host

Finally, you said you're on the tools for 20 odd years, what about anybody coming into the profession today? What would you say to them if people are out there thinking I quite fancy being a lawyer, would you encourage them to do it?

00:27:58 Nick Scott, Managing Partner

I would say go for it. I think it's a career in which you get a window into all sorts of lives, organisations and businesses and the careers of other people, and it's one in which you get to meet fascinating people and you get to be involved in fascinating work. So, I would always enjoy people to think of the legal industry as somewhere they could spend a very satisfactory career.

00:28:18 David Lee, Host

OK. Thank you very much indeed, Nick, for those tremendous insights today into the culture of Brodies and what makes the firms successful, constantly putting the fire under your boots, never being complacent or standing still and always putting those needs of clients and people at the heart of those decisions. And always thinking, however good today has been, tomorrow can always be better.

This episode has been part of Podcasts by Brodies, where some of the country's leading lawyers and special guests share their Enlightened Thinking about the issues and developments having an impact on the legal sector, and what that means for organisations, businesses and individuals across the various sectors of the UK's economy and wider society.

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