2017 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Malcolm Mackay

From left: Jonathan Gilbert of the Edinburgh Watch Company, Lifetime Achievement Award Sponsors with Award winner Malcolm Mackay of United Employment Lawyers. Photography by http://www.keithinglis.com/

Our Lifetime Achievement Award, was this year sponsored by Jonathan Gilbert, founder of the Edinburgh Watch Company and was presented at our Annual Conference which took place on the 18th of May at The Royal College of Surgeons.  This Award is voted for by our entire Executive Team as opposed to just our Judging Panel, and, unlike our other Awards,cannot be applied for.  Our Lifetime Achievement Award is in recognition of a Scottish entrepreneur who has made a considerable and lasting contribution to the entrepreneurial community in Scotland over a period of at least 15 years.  Identifying the winner of this Award is always challenging, there are many potentially worthy winners.  This year, our winner is someone who has shaped and led the world of employment law into previously uncharted territories, in Scotland as well as throughout the UK and Europe – Malcolm Mackay of United Employment Lawyers

Malcolm is an employment lawyer and a Member of the Society of Writers of HM Signet.  Over the years he has been described in legal directories such as Legal 500 and Chambers as “oozing quality”, “a man of vision” with “ a guru-like vision of employment issues” and possessing “an outstanding reputation.”  “The God of employment law in Scotland, he makes no song and dance about it.” and “An entrepreneurial legal pioneer.”  He was the first solicitor to be certified as an Employment Law Specialist by the Law Society of Scotland.

He founded Mackay WS in 1988, later becoming Mackay Simon, Scotland’s first niche employment law practice and possibly the first in the UK. The firm rose quickly up the Legal 500 rankings beating large firms to the top.  Success led to a large client base and in 2000 in order to offer a broader service to them the firm merged with Maclay, Murray & Spens where he headed the Employment Pensions & Benefits department comprising around 40 employment and pensions lawyers.  Prior to the merger founded he had founded Law At Work, a specialist employment law company delivering a fully rounded service for employers comprising a blend of employment law, HR, Insurance and risk management services, which was to shake traditional law practices by removing hourly billing.  In 2004, he established Law At Work in the Channel Islands & despite being a small market, he grew the business quickly to a turnover of £650,000 before it was acquired by the management team in an MBO.  He also established a similar smaller Law At Work business in Malta at this time.

Malcolm’s first foray into employment law was in his early days as a practising solicitor 40 years ago when he won an award of £1,000 for a client having charged a £10 fee!  Over the years, Malcolm and his colleagues have helped thousands of people and businesses with employment law issues. He and his partner Shona Simon (now Scotland’s most senior employment judge whom he considers to be one of the most able employment lawyers he has ever met and who remains a close friend) represented 75 women dismissed from the armed forces for being pregnant.  In one of the first UK referrals to the European Court of Justice (Brown v Rentokil) they succeeded in changing the law in Europe on pregnancy related dismissals, having lost the case throughout the UK court system.

His clients have included Diageo, Serco, Christian Salvesen, Aggreko, BAE Systems, Amazon and BP to name but a few. He was involved in advising on many major public to private transfers during the privatisation process both at the strategic and legal level. He has also been involved in settling a number of major industrial disputes. Although he has advised many employers he has also assisted a large number of individuals and unions, feeling that a balanced approach is essential both in terms of creating a well rounded employment lawyer but also in enabling each side to see the other’s point of view. His basic philosophy is that “employers and employees are on the same side, that when something goes wrong it is for a reason so you find the reason and fix it.” On the union side he acted for a number of unions including Scotland’s main teaching union, the EIS, the Association of University Teachers and the Scottish Prison Officers Association, whom he represented in a leading case in the House of Lords.

In January 2011, having been feeling unwell for some time, Malcolm fell desperately ill and was eventually diagnosed with a very rare form of vasculitis.  An almost fatal illness, he was treated just in time but was immobilised and unable to walk or work for a lengthy period.  For many facing this situation, coming up with a new business idea would have been the last thing on their minds.  Not however for Malcolm.  Without knowing if he would ever function properly again, and realising that international travel was unlikely to be feasible at least in the foreseeable future, whilst convalescing, he looked at gaps in the legal market in Scotland and came up with the idea of enabling high street law firms to deliver specialist employment law services.  He subsequently launched United Employment Lawyers with his wife Amanda, knowing that this business would enable him to work within his physical limitations.

Simultaneously he contacted Marsh, one of the leading global insurers with an idea for specialist insurance products for legal services which was the first of its’ kind. He worked closely with them shaping the offering and following on from due diligence in London and New York, it was launched and represents a unique employment practices liability insurance solution, particularly well suited to SME employers.

Now picking up where he left off with his international work, he is bringing on employment lawyers from other countries to join the UEL network.

Following his illness, showing as much tenacity as he has in business, Malcolm progressed from a wheelchair, to a splint, to crutches, to sticks and now walks unaided. 

An incredibly modest man, Malcolm considers his biggest achievement to be having brought on and developed so many young employment lawyers.  He has always enjoyed working with other employment lawyers, and with UEL, he has developed a collaborative network of lawyers and legal professionals who want to deliver employment law solutions in a better way by focusing on the changing needs of their clients.

“As a lawyer I am particularly proud and humbled to receive this award from a community of genuine entrepreneurs. For many years I have been keen to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and activity among fellow employment lawyers in anticipation of the major changes that were inevitably going to hit the legal profession and are now very much here. The traditional law firm model has many advantages but it neither encourages nor sits well with an entrepreneurial way of thinking. It would be good to see an entrepreneurial approach being encouraged in the way lawyers are educated, trained, and rewarded.”  

Malcolm Mackay

We are absolutely delighted that Malcolm is the hugely worthy winner of the WeDO Scotland 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award and look forward to hearing from him at our Awards Dinner later this year.