Shepherd and Wedderburn History

In the Beginning

Shepherd and Wedderburn traces its history back 250 years in an unbroken line. The story begins on 6 July 1768, when David Stewart of Stewarthall in Stirlingshire, who had been apprenticed to Samuel Mitchelson WS, was admitted as a Writer to the Signet (WS).

Little is known about Stewart’s early years in the law but in 1793 William Patrick of Roughwood, a farm near Beith in Ayrshire, was admitted as a WS and entered into partnership with him. They adopted the firm name of Stewart & Patrick WS and practiced at various addressed in the East End of Edinburgh’s emerging New Town, including 1 James Square, 11 Duke Street and Forth Street. In 1817, they acquired 32 Albany Street. Stewart died in 1823. Patrick assumed James McEwen of Bardrochat, also in Ayrshire, in 1830 and was still practising in 1848, when John Carment was assumed, the firm taking the name of Patrick, McEwen & Carment WS. A photograph of Carment has survived – it shows a pensive and rather grand Victorian figure. It is known that he was an examiner of law agents (the old name for solicitors in Scotland) for many years. Very little is known about the work of these early practitioners but, with Patrick’s and McEwan’s landed connections in Ayrshire, it seems likely that they would have engaged in work of a rural nature and the modern firm continued to act for, and factor, the Bardrochat estate until well into the 1960s.

The Wedderburn Connection

Following the death of Patrick in 1861 and McEwen in 1874, Carment assumed as partners Joseph Maclaggan Wedderburn and Graham Watson in 1878, and the firm name was changed to Carment, Wedderburn & Watson WS. Carment’s nephew Joseph Carment was assumed as a partner in 1900, and in 1902, following John Carment’s death the year before, the firm moved to Glenfinlas Street, off Charlotte Square, establishing itself in the heart of Edinburgh’s West End. Watson’s father was manager of The Scottish Provident Institution, one of Edinburgh’s leading mutual life insurance companies. It is assumed that he brought that company’s business to the firm, as it was a longstanding client until it was absorbed into the Abbey National. It is also known that in these early years the Carments acted for the Pollok Estate on Glasgow’s Southside as its factors and commissioners. This must have generated a significant volume of conveyancing work for the firm at a time of rapid expansion of Glasgow’s housing stock, and Carment Drive in Pollokshields is named after one of them (though it is not known whether this was after the uncle or nephew). Joseph Wedderburn was the son of the Reverend James Maclaggan, Professor of Divinity in the Free Church College, Aberdeen. Maclagan had married Katherine Maclaggan Wedderburn, who had inherited the estate of Pearsie, in Angus, and they had adopted her family name. Wedderburn, who never married, was a director of the British Linen Bank for over 50 years and also one of the original directors of Edinburgh’s Drumsheugh Baths Club. As we shall see, he was one of the driving forces in the formation of the combined firm in 1922.

The Dundee Connection – Guilds and Shepherds

John Erskine Guild was born in 1860 and admitted as a WS in 1886. He was the son of John Guild, a merchant in Dundee. In 1898 he married Florence Martha Turnbull who came from a long line of Writers to the Signet going back to the early 1800s. Little is known for certain of Guild’s practice as a lawyer but his brother, Alexander Guild, and other family members were stockbrokers in Dundee and it is apparent that he had strong business connections with that city. His nephew, Reginald Guild, and great nephew, Ivor Guild, in time became partners in the firm and continued the Dundee connection.

Alfred Shepherd was born in 1857, the son of David Shepherd, a property agent in Dundee, whose family firm was J & E Shepherd, leading chartered surveyors in the city, which was founded in 1880 and still flourishes today. He was admitted as a WS in 1887. The following year, he and John Erskine Guild established the firm of Guild & Shepherd at 63 Castle Street, Edinburgh, moving to 16 Charlotte Square in 1908. He was an early specialist in company law and a director of numerous investment and other companies. Described in his obituary as a man of innate modesty, he is said to have spent most of the week at company meetings in London and only one day a week in the office. He was an avid book collector, specialising in first editions, and he was thought to be the only person who had a first edition of all Sir Walter Scott’s works.


1 July 1922 was a red letter day in the history of the firm, the day when Guild & Shepherd and Carment, Wedderburn & Watson amalgamated to form the combined firm of Shepherd and Wedderburn, based at 16 Charlotte Square and at the same time acquired No 15. Alfred Shepherd and Joseph Wedderburn were the senior partners of the new firm, which had ten partners in all, and would have been one of the largest in Scotland at that time. Little specific detail has survived about the nature of the firm’s work in those days, but it is understood that a significant proportion of its fee income was derived from investment trust management and from the directors’ fees paid to a number of the partners.

The breadth of activities undertaken by partners at this time can be gleaned from the career of the Hon James Balfour, whose father, the first Baron Kinross, had been Lord President of the Court of Session from 1899 to 1905. Balfour was assumed as a partner in Guild & Shepherd in 1908. He served with the Scottish Horse and General Staff in the First World War and on a number of government boards at the end of that war. He was deputy financial adviser to the Persian Government from 1921-22. He retired from the firm in 1927 but continued an active business career as a partner in the merchant bank Guinness Mahon & Co. and as chairman and board member of numerous investment companies. Similarly, Alfred Shepherd’s obituary refers to him being chiefly known as a company-commercial lawyer and as a director, and, in some cases chairman, of numerous investment and other companies.

In the course of time the reliance of the firm and its partners on their investment trust activities declined, as it developed into one of Scotland’s premier general practice law firms. No one played a more important role in this transformation than Ernest Wedderburn, whose uncle Joseph was, as we have seen, a driving force in the creation of the new firm. During the First World War, he developed a method for calculating the allowance to be made for ballistic winds in long-range artillery shelling. On his return to the firm, he was instrumental in the formation of the Law Society of Scotland, the professional governing body for Scottish solicitors; was appointed Professor of Conveyancing at the University of Edinburgh; and Deputy Keeper of the Signet (DKS) and, as such, head of the WS Society.

In 1937, Bill Bowes joined the firm as an office junior, straight from school, aged 14. He did not have the privileged background common among solicitors of his generation but, encouraged by Sir Ernest, he studied for his legal degree and later qualified as a solicitor. Bill was assumed as a partner in 1967 and was admitted as a WS that year. This was a breath of fresh air for the firm and the beginning of a commitment to diversity that endures to this day.

The Post-War Era

Until the mid-1950s the pattern of office life continued much as it had done for 30 years, with eight or 10 partners and a staff of 70 or 80, and the firm occupying 15 and 16 Charlotte Square. During the 1950s the pace of professional life began to quicken. Mechanised accounting was introduced in the cash room and Saturday morning work was abolished. The biggest change came in 1959. Until then the firm only had a small court department, but that year it amalgamated with Macpherson & Mackay WS, a specialist court firm with offices in Melville Street in Edinburgh. This formed the basis of the strong court department that the firm established over the following decades, bringing in specialist litigation partners James Stewart, Rufus Smith and Wilson Brydie – all of whom had valuable general practice connections – and Ian MacLeod as a young apprentice, who as a partner later led the department to great success. In 1962, Denys Andrews was assumed as a partner and this led the way to further assumptions beyond the founding families – an inevitable change.

In many ways the outstanding figure in the firm during the post-war era was George Henry, who developed a wide commercial practice for clients, such as the South of Scotland Electricity Board - the state owned forerunner of ScottishPower, and undertook transactions such as stock market flotations. In the late 1950s, George was appointed to a committee to review the law of conveyancing and land registration, which had not been significantly reformed since the early 1920s. This led to the introduction of the system of land registration that has since been adopted throughout Scotland.

Developments in the Finance and Business Sectors

Until the 1970s, the firm did not have a specialist corporate department, although individual partners undertook a range of financial sector work along with other commitments. It was recognised that this had to change, and by chance an opportunity to bring this about presented itself. Roger Inglis had been a senior corporate partner in the firm of Dundas & Wilson, which had well-recognised expertise in this field through its senior partner, Sir Hugh Watson, who had succeeded Sir Ernest as Deputy Keeper of the Signet. He had been persuaded a few years previously to retire from legal practice to join Ivory and Sime, one of the leading Edinburgh investment management groups, with whom he had close business connections. This did not, however, work out the way he had hoped and he was persuaded to return to the law and to join Shepherd and Wedderburn. He was assumed as a partner in 1976.

Ian Inglis (no relation to Roger) had been a court partner in the firm since 1968, specialising in commercial litigation and insolvency work, and he had qualified as a banker before entering the legal profession. He joined Roger in setting up Shepherd and Wedderburn’s corporate department. It rapidly expanded, as did the firm’s established expertise in the commercial property field, providing the building blocks for the firm’s pre-eminence in the energy and natural resources, financial, real estate and infrastructure sectors, for which Shepherd and Wedderburn is noted today. Ian was subsequently elected as senior partner in the firm, a post he held with distinction until he retired in 1998.

Our English real estate capability was established in 2001 when Shepherd and Wedderburn opened its London office.

The team has worked closely with our corporate and finance teams in London; for example on joint ventures for alternative funder ICG Longbow; on Accrue Capital’s recent acquisitions of the 18-property ‘Project Mouse’ portfolio from Harwood Real Estate; and the acquisition of the 176,000 sq ft Greyhound Retail Park Phase II near Chester for Gatehouse Bank.

Relocation and expansion

Until the early 1980s, most of the leading professional firms in Edinburgh considered location to be important, and nowhere fitted that requirement better than Charlotte Square. By the 1970s, the firm had, however, outgrown the physical capacity of numbers 15 and 16, despite also extending into 12, 13, 14 and 17. This was not an ideal solution to the accommodation problem as there was limited interconnection between the buildings, a lack of meeting rooms and generally poor infrastructure.

It was decided the only realistic solution was to relocate to modern open plan accommodation. This was consistent with the spirit of the age, as a result of which there was a wholesale exodus from the traditional West End buildings during the 1980s and early 1990s. During this period almost all the big firms in Charlotte Square and the surrounding streets moved to the emergent financial district south of Princes Street. By early 1993 a commitment was made to lease accommodation in Saltire Court, a prestigious new office block on Castle Terrace. The move took place just before Christmas 1993 and the transfer of the whole undertaking was achieved with minimal disruption to clients.

The move from Charlotte Square to Saltire Court heralded a new phase in the firm’s development, with Shepherd and Wedderburn based in the heart of Edinburgh’s flourishing new financial district. This was a period that saw a number of young lawyers, from a diverse range of backgrounds, promoted to partner. Many of them are now leaders in the business. In the years since the firm has continued to grow, both organically and through acquisition.

This period also saw geographic expansion, with Shepherd and Wedderburn opening offices in Glasgow, London and Aberdeen. In 1997, the firm opened its first office in Glasgow at 155 St Vincent Street and four years later opened its first London office at Bucklersbury House at 83 Cannon Street. In 2006, Shepherd and Wedderburn became a limited liability partnership, underlining its commitment to developing the business, and the following year the firm relocated its London office to St Paul’s Churchyard. In 2008, the Edinburgh office relocated to 1 Exchange Crescent, Conference Square, and three years later relocated its Glasgow office to 191 West George Street, moving to 1 West Regent Street in 2016

During this period there were two significant acquisitions that allowed Shepherd and Wedderburn to further expand its specialist expertise and geographic reach. The firm acquired Tods Murray in 2014, enhancing its banking and finance practice, and in 2016 it acquired The Commercial Law Practice, based in Aberdeen, expanding its presence in the Granite City and opening its new office at 2 Rubislaw Terrace.

The modern firm: sharpened sector focus

A key driver of the business more recently has also been the development of the core areas of corporate and commercial, property and litigation of services to support organisations and individuals active in the key growth sectors of the Scottish and wider UK economy, evidenced by our independently-recognised market leadership in a growing number of sectors.

Property and infrastructure

The development of Shepherd and Wedderburn’s real estate practice is probably best demonstrated by the work the firm has done, and is doing, for one of its biggest clients, British Land plc (BL). In the early 1990s, on behalf of Pillar Property plc (subsequently acquired by BL), Shepherd and Wedderburn acquired Kinnaird Retail Park and the adjoining Fort Retail Park in Edinburgh. The evolution of these assets, and the firm’s real estate practice since then, has been truly transformative. The firm expanded its real estate practice to form its market-leading construction and planning teams – both of which played a key part in the subsequent development and letting of the gap site between the retail parks, knitting them together to begin the Fort Kinnaird story. In the late 2000s, developers and investors looked further afield for partners and finance. British Land brought the Crown Estate into the asset as a partner, a complex transaction involving not only the firm’s property, construction and planning teams, but also its corporate, banking and tax teams. During Shepherd and Wedderburn’s 20-year involvement, the asset was transformed into one of the UK’s leading ‘destination’ shopping parks, featuring food and beverage, leisure and retail. The firm’s involvement has recently culminated in the arrival of M&G as a new partner in the asset, and the reappointment of its real estate practice to advise on all facets of the asset.

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s real estate practice is broad and diverse, and has advised on projects including the regeneration and disposal of the former Bishopton armaments factory in Renfrewshire, the formation and evolution of Waterfront Edinburgh and the regeneration of Granton; the redevelopment of the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary; the acquisition, construction and letting of the Omni Centre and Calton Square, Edinburgh. In addition, the firm has acted in some of Scotland’s largest office letting and sale transactions and has a significant housing practice, acting for a number of major UK housebuilders.

Our English real estate capability was established in 2001 when Shepherd and Wedderburn opened its London office.

The team has worked closely with our corporate and finance teams in London; for example on joint ventures for alternative funder ICG Longbow; on Accrue Capital’s recent acquisitions of the 18-property ‘Project Mouse’ portfolio from Harwood Real Estate; and the acquisition of the 176,000 sq ft Greyhound Retail Park Phase II near Chester for Gatehouse Bank.

Construction and special projects

New models for the delivery of construction and infrastructure projects in the United Kingdom were introduced in the 1990’s, including the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), and Shepherd and Wedderburn’s infrastructure team was involved in the first project under this delivery model in Scotland – the Skye Bridge Project.

From there, we have since advised the public sector on Scotland’s first Non Profit Distributing Model (NPD) Project – the funding framework that superseded PFI in Scotland – on behalf of Argyll and Bute Council, and we went on to set up the West and South West Territories for the new Hub models borne from the NPD model led by Scottish Futures Trust.

Our team also advised on the first ever infrastructure project in Scotland to use the Competitive Dialogue procedure, enabling dialogue with bidders during the procurement process.

In the past five years we advised on NPD and hub projects with a combined capital value of circa £1.5 billion, and our team is currently advising a UK government department on an innovative framework worth up to £1 billion, seen in the construction and infrastructure sectors as being a “huge leap forward” in procurement.

Our team works across the UK and internationally on projects spanning a broad range of sectors, including in defence,  energy, health, leisure, retail, office and residential.

Looking ahead, our infrastructure team continues to expand, across sectors and countries, and current projects range from advising on a new world-class concert hall and a new sports stadium, designing a new-build framework for social housing, and advising on a number of new distillery proposals.

Our work ranges from lower value, minor works contracts to billion pound frameworks, resourced by one of the largest specialist teams in the country.


Clean Energy

The early 1990s brought a revolution in energy production and 1993 marked Shepherd and Wedderburn’s initial foray into renewable power, advising ScottishPower on its first three wind farms built in Northern Ireland. The development of onshore wind in Scotland and throughout the UK gathered pace throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and the firm’s clean energy practice blossomed.

As the onshore wind market matured, the clean energy team moved into the offshore wind market. From a small start, advising on a 10MW Talisman Energy demonstrator in the Moray Firth, the firm now advises on some of the world’s largest consented offshore wind projects, supporting clients such as Ørsted Energy, EDP Renewables, Mainstream Renewable Power and Vattenfall. Shepherd and Wedderburn has 90 lawyers working on all aspects of renewable power, from development work through to mergers and acquisitions and financing transactions, and spanning solar, hydro and biomass to wave and tidal projects.

In addition, members of the team have been actively involved at board level in Scottish Renewables – the industry body for the Scotland’s renewable energy sector – and have participated in the consents and licensing group of trade association RenewableUK. Shepherd and Wedderburn is also headline sponsor of All-Energy, the UK’s largest renewable and low carbon energy exhibition and conference, which provides a unique opportunity to share knowledge, forge business relationships and help chart the future direction of the sector.

Financial Services

Shepherd and Wedderburn has been intimately involved in the development of the fund management and banking sector in Edinburgh for well over a century, both as a legal adviser and through its partners acting as non-executive directors of some of the leading financial institutions. In the 1980s, the firm was a founder member of Scottish Financial Enterprise, the industry trade body, and continues to be actively involved to this day. Shepherd and Wedderburn’s banking and securitisation experience was greatly enhanced in 2014 when we were joined by the team from Tods Murray, which had long history of acting at the highest level for UK and international banks and financial institutions.

The firm has an established and recognised equity capital market experience, developed from its history acting for the Edinburgh fund management community.

Food and Drink

Scotland’s food and drink sector has enjoyed dramatic growth in recent years, with exports rising to a record high of £6 billion in 2017 – the most recent official figures. That same year, the Scottish Government also published its 2030 Ambition to more than double the sector’s turnover (at the time of writing worth around £13.5 billion) to £30 billion by 2030. As the sector has grown, so too has Shepherd and Wedderburn’s Food and Drink Group and its roster of clients. The group has worked with leading names in food and drink on a wide variety of issues, notably around competition law, intellectual property, environmental matters, product liability, mergers and acquisitions, property and litigation. Notable matters we have worked on across the sector include with Genius Foods, from inception to worldwide distribution; Heineken’s outsourcing of UK distribution to Kuehne & Nagel; Emporador Brands’ £44 million acquisition of Whyte & Mackay; a £60 million biomass plant for a consortium of Speyside distillers; and numerous brand sponsorships on behalf of Chivas Regal.

Media and Technology

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s media and technology practice evolved rapidly during the 1980s as a result of high value patent and trade mark disputes being brought in the courts by the firm’s litigation teams. Shepherd and Wedderburn now has one of the largest practices of any UK law firm, managing international portfolios for clients spanning financial services, sports, alcoholic drinks, games and many others.

During the 1990s and early part of the new millennium, the firm’s media and technology team supported the development and construction of the internet and digital technologies. Since then it has developed specialisms in content rights, exploiting those digital channels with media and branding, and more recently an increasing focus on data security and privacy to meet clients’ needs. The firm also played a  leading role in acting for asset managers and other financial services clients in Edinburgh, to support them as they invested in technology to support their businesses (Shepherd and Wedderburn was acting on fintech projects 20 years before the word was invented). The firm also enjoyed a strong deal flow in high-growth technology companies in the Scottish market through the late 1990s, in fields ranging from software and optoelectronics to medical devices. More recently the technology practice developed to include telecoms clients and increasingly larger UK-wide projects.

Regulation and Markets

Modern utility regulation is a child of the 1980s, developed initially for the privatisation of British Telecom in 1982. The first mobile phone call in the UK, made by Ernie Wise on 1 January 1985, was a hint of the central, but normally hidden role that utility regulation now plays in all our lives. The charges we pay, how utilities treat customers and invest in infrastructure, and our choice of phone, gas and electricity supplier are what utility regulation is all about.

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s work on utility regulation started at the end of 1980s with preparations for the privatisation of ScottishPower. Since then, the firm has led many ground-breaking transactions, including putting in place the complex arrangements in 1998 that allowed everyone in Scotland to choose their electricity supplier. The firm has advised on every major reform to the electricity industry since then.

A meeting in 1999 with the newly-appointed Water Industry Commissioner for Scotland, to compare notes on water regulation, was the first step to becoming one of the UK’s leading water regulation practices. Shepherd and Wedderburn’s specialist team went on to help liberalise the Scottish Water industry (Scotland was the first country that allowed businesses to choose their water supplier). The firm’s lawyers also played a central role in developing the arrangements for the liberalisation of the market in England in 2017, and have become trusted advisers to some of the biggest names in the water industry. In 2001, Shepherd and Wedderburn became the lead legal adviser to the Single Electricity Market Committee (SEMC), which regulates key aspects of the electricity industry in the Island of Ireland.

More recently the firm has been advising the SEMC on its far-reaching reforms of the electricity market. Shepherd and Wedderburn’s electricity practice is international, advising on matters in many jurisdictions, as well as developing a significant practice in gas.

Just before the 20th anniversary of that first mobile phone call, the firm expanded into telecoms and has since established a leading telecoms regulation practice, building on its expertise, established over many years, across all utilities.

Private client

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s private client offering has been at the heart of the firm since its inception. While the nature of advice has evolved, the primary objective has endured – to earn the faith of our clients as their principal, trusted adviser. The firm has proudly acted for many generations of families, advising on a broad range of legal and tax-related matters. The complexity of the ever-changing tax code and the increasing demand for advice on complex finance and succession planning matters, against such a rapidly-evolving backdrop, has been reflected in our increasing specialisation in this area. Our client base has become increasingly international in nature, and we often work alongside leading advisers in foreign jurisdictions on complex tax and succession issues.

Our clients include many household names as well as many private individuals. Complete trust and confidentiality is paramount. That is why you will never hear us mentioning a private client by name. The trusted adviser never breaches that bond of trust.

Rural Property and Business

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s rural property and business team has evolved to become one of Scotland’s leading advisers to estate owners, farmers and forestry managers.

The firm has many years’ experience in the acquisition, sale and management of estates, farms and forestry interests, but has also developed specialist skills in farming tenancies and crofting law, as well as a whole range of business activities in the rural environment, including shared farming and farm contract agreements, mining, renewables, tourism and horticultural ventures. This enables the team to deliver commercial, pragmatic and strategic advice to clients seeking to diversify away from core agriculture and forestry.

The Scottish Government’s Land Reform agenda, Brexit and the heralded move away from area-based agricultural support for farm produce, means clients are increasingly seeking specialist advice as they consider how to achieve greater productivity and secure new income streams from their existing landholdings. To deliver the complete range of expert advice required by clients, the team now regularly draws upon the expert knowledge of specialists from across the firm with particular expertise in tax, trusts, planning, employment, corporate, construction, and dispute resolution.

Pharma, life sciences and medtech

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s Pharma, Life Sciences and Medtech Group has been active for more than 20 years, advising clients in the UK and beyond. Our lawyers have, for example, worked closely with the pharmaceutical company Kyowa Kirin International plc from its earliest incarnation as Galashiels based start-up Strakan Pharmaceuticals in the early 2000s, through its merger with the French company ProSkelia, to its current operations as a global pharmaceutical business. Over the past two decades our clients have provided our lawyers with diverse and exciting challenges, including advising major international players such as GlaxoSmithKline and AbbVie, funders like The Medical Research Council and Scottish Enterprise, innovative and growing listed companies such as Collagen Solutions plc and high growth university spin-outs.

The present and future…

As we develop the skills and expertise to guide our clients in the future we are also developing new ways and systems involving artificial intelligence and other technology to deliver our services faster and more effectively. However, at the core of everything we aspire to be is that of the clients trusted adviser – it is a position that we have spent 250 years developing and earning through hard work, excellent service and innovating to the new norms and challenges that business and society brings. We look forward with pride and dedication to continuing to discharge that brief for another 250.

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Scotland in 2050: Realising Our Global Potential

Our lawyers are privileged to work with clients who are leaders in their industries and sectors, in Scotland, the UK and abroad. We are currently supporting businesses in more than 100 jurisdictions, advising on specific projects, helping them expand their overseas operations or supporting them in entering new markets.

Building on our unremitting focus on clients and the contribution they make to the economy, we have commissioned The University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute to undertake a major research project to help Scottish businesses, organisations and entrepreneurs best position themselves for the future. We have used fresh insights drawn from economic data and long-term global growth forecasts to inform a conversation with our clients and key industry contacts, which will help identify how they – and Scotland – can mitigate the challenges and seize the opportunities in the years ahead against the backdrop of a rapidly-evolving global economy.

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