Harper Macleod

This week, we’re handing over the blog to Harper Macleod, who is celebrating 20 years since opening its Inverness office. Lead Partner for the firm’s Highlands, Islands and Moray operations, Chris Kerr, says that the next 20 years are even more important than the last.

Chris Kerr explains Harper Macleod’s commitment to our community in the North, dedication to investing in and growing the team and what the future holds.

Harper Macleod started in 1988 when two young partners from a Glasgow court firm wanted to create a new commercial law firm. One of those partners was Lorne Crerar, now Professor Lorne Crerar CBE FRSE, who remains our chairman to this day. Lorne is also well-known in the area having served as HIE chairman from 2012 to 2020.

We are a full-service legal firm with clients ranging from individuals and families, a cross-section of SMEs, to Scotland’s largest businesses and organisations. We specialise in a wide variety of sectors particularly energy, commercial and residential property, the natural environment, and Scotland’s public and third sectors. Despite our relatively young age, we’ve grown quickly since 1988. Today, we are a business of more than 400 people in six offices across the country – Inverness, Elgin, Thurso, Lerwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh. With 77 partners, we are one of the largest professional partnerships in Scotland.

We have a unique footprint in the north of Scotland with the largest team of on-the-ground lawyers in the region, backed up by the depth and breadth of a national law firm.

2024 is particularly special for us as it’s 20 years since we opened our Inverness office, but our links to the Highlands stretch back more than 40 years. At the same time, while the 20-year mark is something to be celebrated, what’s more important is the next 20 years. Inverness and the Highlands have a huge amount to offer whether you’re starting a business, a career or a family.

We’re also very proud of what we’ve been able to do over the last 20 years in terms of creating highly skilled and valuable jobs. Many professionals in the area started or developed their careers with Harper Macleod either as trainees, modern apprentices, qualified solicitors or other professions. Looking to the future, we know we are a place of opportunity where people can develop long-term careers.

Because we’ve been part of the community for 20 years, we understand the issues which matter most to the north of Scotland, such as natural capital projects, renewable energy, agriculture, rural affairs, crofting and the marine economy. We’re also very proud to support several local charities and initiatives such as the Developing the Young Workforce programme, Highland Rugby’s community and development team, Maggie’s Centre and UHI’s Create competition.

Meet Highlands, Islands and Moray Lead Partner, Chris Kerr

My name is Chris Kerr and I head up the firm’s operations across the Highlands, Islands and Moray. I’m part of the corporate and M&A team and work with a wide cross-section of family-owned and owner-managed businesses. I help and advise those businesses on a range of issues including mergers, acquisitions and succession planning. In recent years we’ve also seen a lot of businesses moving to employee-ownership.

I started with Harper Macleod as a trainee 25 years ago at a time when the firm didn’t have the footprint and breadth of services it does now. That goes to show that Harper Macleod is a place of opportunity for starting and developing a career in the legal sector, whether that is as a lawyer or a business services role such as IT, HR, finance or marketing.

I’m also involved in the work we do with some of the firm’s key sectors, particularly the marine economy, energy and transport.

Overcoming Challenges

Our challenges haven’t been dissimilar to most businesses and organisations, the wider economy or what people are feeling on a day-to-day basis.  

We’re living in an economic environment which has not been felt in a generation. The underlying challenge of climate change and just transition to net zero is also being tackled. These issues affect us all. 

In some respects, Scotland is still on a covid recovery journey, or at least still coming to terms with a new way of living and working while other challenges present themselves whether that is energy security, inflation or interest rates.

With those challenges in mind, we focus our attention on our clients, our colleagues and our communities with things that we can control. On the client front, it’s easy to be distracted given the economic conditions, but we’ve been focused on delivering for our clients to help them overcome their challenges.

Community Spirit & Knowledge Sharing

We’ve always invested in events and sharing knowledge for our Inverness clients and businesses. For many years we hosted the successful Scottish Highlands & Islands Rural Economy (SHIREs) Conference and Awards and the Scottish Highlands Renewable Energy Conference, and we’re always looking at new and innovative ways to celebrate everything that is good about the area. This year is no different. This year we’ll be hosting a wide range of events and we’re looking forward to seeing clients, making new contacts and supporting local community programmes.

In September, we’ll be hosting our National Housing Conference. We know the issue of housing is an important one for Inverness, and both rural and urban communities. Towards the end of the year, we’ll also have our annual Marine Economy Week which looks at the key issues in that sector whether it is renewable energy, aquaculture or the supply chain.

You’ll also see us at the agricultural and rural shows across the summer, so please come and say hello.

We would also encourage readers to look at some of the initiatives we supported last year, particularly our Marine Economy Week and the impact the new Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport could have on the region. We produced a report on this after bringing together key stakeholders to discuss the opportunities. That can be accessed here.

Similarly, last summer we hosted discussions on the opportunities for Scotland’s natural capital, focusing on woodland creation and peatland restoration – areas which we know are important for landowners, estate managers and investors across the Highlands. Our natural capital report can be read here.

Success Stories

We’re big believers in allowing our actions to speak for us. The awards and commendations we are lucky to receive put a spotlight on those actions and although we have received them at a specific point, they are usually related to things we’ve been doing for a number of years, or are simply part of our culture.

For example, last year we achieved the Gold standards in both Investors in People and Investors in Young People (retained from previous year) accreditations. We held the IIYP Gold accreditation the previous year, but this was the first time we’ve held both. These achievements don’t happen overnight but are years in the making and part of who we are as a firm.

Similarly, we were awarded the ESG Firm of the Year at the inaugural Legal 500 Scotland Awards in November. It’s important to note ESG-related actions have been a constant in our business since the creation of our CSR strategy in 2006 and further confirmation that our ESG route map is the right thing to do by our clients, colleagues and communities.

In November last year, we were inducted into The Legal 500’s UK Green Guide – a highly respected directory of firms who are recognised for their work on environmental issues, governance and sustainability. We are the first wholly Scottish firm to be recognised in this guide.

Looking To The Future

While the current economic picture perhaps looks as stable as it has done in recent years, there are undoubtedly challenges ahead for businesses and households alike. 

We’re in a very strong position which means our medium to long term future is looking positive, but that means we first need to focus on our immediate future and growth in the next 12-24 months. 

That challenge is brought into sharp focus when you consider how committed we are to being a place of opportunity. We’ve just welcomed our largest intake of new trainees, which, when combined with our current group, makes us one of the largest employers of graduates in Scotland.

When you also look at our commitment to providing opportunities for modern apprentices, the biggest personal challenge we take on is to ensure those colleagues are retained at the end of their traineeships and apprenticeships. We want them to have long futures with the firm, which means we need to create growth and opportunities for them to develop. 

We’re focused on what we can control which means ensuring we deliver on our growth aspirations so that we can continue to deliver for our clients, provide opportunities for our colleagues, and benefit our communities.

Leaning on our 20 years in Inverness, and looking to the future, we still believe we are unique in the range of services we offer to a wide range of businesses, organisations, individuals and families at all stages. Whether you are buying or selling a home, growing your family, or running a business, we’re here to help.

Harper Macleod & The Chamber

We’re big supporters of the Inverness Chamber of Commerce and believe that you get as much out of the partnership as you put in. The Chamber is in-tune with what businesses are saying and feeling, so being able to reach local businesses is a great platform for us. At the same time, it enables us to hear for ourselves some of the challenges and opportunities which local businesses are facing, and how we might be able to help them. The strong sense of community which the Chamber is able to foster is particularly valuable, so it’s incumbent on all members to play their part. One of our Inverness partners, Ross Thomson, is a past President of the Chamber, so it is a long-held commitment we’ve had.

For many years, the Chamber has brought people and businesses together to not only celebrate what’s good about Inverness and the Highlands but to overcome common challenges. It provides a forum to connect with other organisations not just for the sake of it, but because those connections will make a difference.

The Chamber is also an important voice for the local business community whether that is on issues of legislation, policy or funding.

Tips For Maximising Membership

It’s a cliché but you’ll get out what you put in. Although the Chamber provides regular services, by going along to events and contributing to the discussion, you’re more likely to make the connections you want to make.

Keep a close eye on and make use of the Chamber’s communications for different events and insights. As well as adding authority to what you want to say, they can help you reach different audiences. One of the Chamber’s aims is to help people work together as a community, for the good of the community. The first step is becoming a member but the true value comes from playing your part not just for the benefit of your own organisation but for the whole of the Highlands.

Connecting Supporting Representing