Shepherd & Wedderburn: sights set on the future

“We have much to celebrate in terms of our journey with clients and the contribution we have made to innovation in key sectors of the economy,” says Stephen Gibb, Chief Executive of Shepherd and Wedderburn, reflecting on the firm’s 250th anniversary this year, “but we are not a business that dwells on the past – our focus is very much on the future.”

Shepherd and Wedderburn has a proud history dating back to the Scottish Enlightenment; a period of radical thought and innovation, during which Scotland’s legal and banking sector emerged to support international commerce, economic growth and, later, the industrial revolution.

That relationship with business has endured, and during that time Shepherd and Wedderburn has been at the forefront of innovation in all the key sectors of the Scottish economy, from the expansion of Edinburgh’s financial services sector and the privatisation of state industries to its recent work for Scotland’s tech unicorns and landmark clean energy projects.

“We see our role as deploying our market-leading expertise in sectors such as clean energy, technology, food and drink, real estate, construction, rural business and banking and finance to support clients in driving the growth of their businesses domestically and internationally,” explains Gibb.

“We are trusted advisers to our clients, helping them to identify and overcome the challenges coming down the track and to seize commercial opportunities wherever they are operating – in Scotland, the rest of the UK or overseas.

“Of the top three independent, Scottish-headquartered law firms, we are in the unique position of having a London office which is key to developing and building our relationships with UK and international clients.”

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s team in the City, acting alongside Sidley Austin, has been supporting Wells Fargo on its new European headquarters in London – one of the biggest property deals in the City since the Brexit vote – and advising the UK Government on a new framework agreement to deliver up to £1 billion of UK infrastructure projects over the next decade.

Today, Shepherd and Wedderburn represents eight of the top 10 largest companies ranked in Scottish Business Insider’s Top 500, and prides itself on the long-term trusted adviser relationships it has with clients such as Cairn Energy, Green Investment Group, Chivas Brothers and the R&A – the governing body for golf outside the United States and Mexico and organiser of The Open, the sport’s oldest Major competition.

These relationships were recognised last year when Shepherd and Wedderburn was ranked one of the UK’s top 20 legal advisers in Legal Week’s Best Legal Adviser Report – the only Scottish-headquartered law firm on the list.

The firm is also recognised by the independent legal directories, Chambers and Partners and Legal 500, for market-leading expertise in 16 individual specialisms, including, corporate mergers and acquisitions, corporate recovery and restructuring, banking and finance, clean energy, real estate, commercial and property litigation, pensions, planning, IT and telecoms, and regulation and competition.

While Brexit, and the uncertainty around the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU and the rest of the world, may have prompted some businesses to press pause on making investment decisions, Gibb falls into the ‘roll up your sleeves and get on with it’ camp. Inaction is not an option for the firm or the majority of its clients.

“Of course, we are advising clients on the potential implications of Brexit but, in common with the vast majority of organisations and individuals with whom we work, we are just getting on with it – we are speaking to our clients, immersing ourselves in the sectors and markets in which they operate and making sure we continue to deliver high quality, relevant legal services and practical, well-informed commercial advice,” says Gibb.

While there is still uncertainly surrounding the UK’s eventual divorce deal with the EU, the devaluation of sterling has made the UK an attractive destination for investors in their quest for yield.

“There is currently a very strong pipeline of inward investment, and recently figures published by EY suggest Scotland is second only to London as a regional destination for foreign direct investment,” says Gibb. “We have been acting for a number of overseas investors who are buying companies and property, and there’s considerable activity too with our locally-based clients, especially in the digital technologies sector.”

FanDuel, one of only two Scottish technology start-ups to date noted for achieving billion-dollar valuations, is a long-standing client of the firm. At the other end of the scale – in terms of the tech company life-cycle – Shepherd and Wedderburn also acts for television advertising analytics company TVSquared and acted for Two Big Ears, the VR audio start-up that came to prominence in 2015 as part of Icelandic musician Bjork’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and was snapped up a year later by Facebook.

The firm has also been at the forefront of the energy sector, notably in renewable energy and energy regulation and was involved in both Scotland’s first onshore and offshore windfarms. More recently, it acted for Abu Dhabi-based Masdar on Hywind Scotland, the world’s largest floating windfarm, off the coast of Aberdeenshire.

“We have been very active in the renewables sector and our clean energy practice is independently recognised as one of the UK’s strongest,” says Gibb, “and we have been involved in some tremendously exciting landmark projects in wind, wave, hydro, and clean transport.”

Shepherd and Wedderburn also has a sizeable international stable of clients, including Denmark’s Orsted Windpower and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities in Ireland. International clients in other sectors include the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation in Japan and Scandinavian Airlines in Sweden.

Says Gibb: “We are proud of our clients’ achievements and our contribution to their success, but we can never allow ourselves to rest on our laurels. As our history shows, innovation is, and always has been, in our DNA and that isn’t going to change any time soon.”

‘Our people are our greatest asset’

“Our people are our greatest asset and we are in the fortunate position of having lawyers who are independently recognised as leaders in their fields, commercially-focused and easy to work with,” says Gibb.

“Clients want solutions. They want to work with professional advisers who they trust, who understand their objectives, offer solutions and bring added value to the relationship by identifying commercial opportunities and helping to identify and mitigate risk.

“We are a people business and our progress is built on the firm foundation of legal excellence and attracting colleagues from a wide variety of backgrounds. Just as our clients are diverse, so are our people and that variety of experience and expertise is essential because it allows you to offer lawyers who are the best fit for each client. And to have the best people, you have got to have the best possible working environment.”

Inclusion and diversity are themes that run through the company, from its pro-bono work in the community, to its Investors in People and Investors in Young People accreditations, and to its in-house focus groups, which include one looking at LGBT inclusivity in the workplace.

Shepherd and Wedderburn has enhanced its recruitment and induction procedures, Gibb explains, “to emphasise that diversity and equality lie front-and-centre as key principles and requirements of our business”.

Embracing innovation

While stability is an important feature of any law firm, it can often morph into stagnation. Innovation has become indispensable in ensuring growth, profitability, and most importantly, client satisfaction. “One of the things I enjoy about the job,” said Stephen Gibb, “is looking at what’s coming next and thinking strategically about where we are going.”

A key area of innovation is the firm’s work in Islamic finance. Shepherd and Wedderburn structured and documented the first Shariah-compliant mortgage products operating under Scots law. It has also been involved in some of the first purely Islamic commercial property financing structures in Scotland, as well as structures combining both Murabaha financing techniques and conventional lending structures. A Murabaha transaction is a form of Islamic financing based on the purchase of underlying assets and their sale at a pro t mark-up that enables a financier to provide funding without an interest-bearing loan.

Most recently, the rm completed the Shariah-compliant refinancing on high-value office accommodation in Aberdeen, acting as legal advisor to Youngberry Properties, owner of Bridge View and Consort House. The Aberdeen properties, totalling 159,170 sq ft of floor space, are fully let to the oil and gas service provider Petrofac and NHS Scotland.

Gatehouse Bank, the London-based wholesale Shariah-compliant investment bank, advised Youngberry on the investment and financing aspects of the deal. The funding was completed by way of a commodity Murabaha facility from an established international bank. Shepherd and Wedderburn provided Youngberry with banking, real estate, construction and tax advice.

Peter Alderdice, a senior associate in Shepherd and Wedderburn’s Banking and Finance team, said: “This is a significant deal for Youngberry Properties, helping to secure the refinancing of two of the largest commercial properties in the city.”

Another area in which Shepherd and Wedderburn is innovating is in third party litigation funding. Last year, it secured a ground-breaking, portfolio-based litigation finance arrangement from Burford Capital – a first of its kind offering from a top 100 UK law firm and major funder.

Securing third party finance means clients can reduce their risk exposure or bring disputes where they might not otherwise have had the cash ow to do so – effectively turning litigation into an asset. Shepherd and Wedderburn is leading the way for UK law firms to embrace the advantages litigation funding, in all its forms.

John MacKenzie, the firm’s Head of Commercial and International Disputes, said: “Our portfolio arrangement enhances our capacity to take on new matters in England on an alternative fee arrangement basis.

“The litigation funding market is alive and well in Scotland, with funders already exploring opportunities north of the border. When the Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Bill comes into force, allowing group proceedings, that should make it easier still to bring funded claims.”