EDINBURGH-headquartered Maclay Murray & Spens (MMS) is to be taken over by the world’s biggest law firm, Dentons, in a deal that will enable its lawyers to refer work to colleagues operating in over 60 countries.

The deal is expected to close before the end of this year with all 62 of MMS’s partners taking partnership in the enlarged firm.

If it goes ahead as planned, the combination will mark the end of a period that has seen MMS engage in ultimately unconsummated merger discussions with English firms Bond Pearce (now Bond Dickinson) and Addleshaw Goddard.

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For chief executive Kenneth Shand a combination with another firm has been on MMS’s radar “for quite some time” with the firm, whose turnover fell from a high of £60.8 million in 20017/08 to £44.7m in 2015/16, last year preparing the ground for a potential tie-up by offloading its final-salary pension liabilities in an insurance deal.

“We never had a desperate need to do it but we had a desire,” he said. “We believe we’ve got a lot of rich history which lies behind us that will carry forward into the combined entity.

“We believe that the marketplace requires us to have greater scale to be able to invest in our people and systems and we very much like the Dentons approach.

“It is a truly unique set-up in the legal market in that it has a central element that is very much played out in local fields.”

Dentons in its current form can trace its history back to the 2010 merger of English practice Denton Wilde Sapte and US firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, with the resulting entity - SNR Denton - embarking on an unrivalled global expansion path since 2012.

At that point the firm, which now markets itself as a ‘polycentric’ business with no distinct centre of control, merged with European practice Salans and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain.

The resulting business, which rebranded as Dentons, scored its greatest coup in 2015 when it combined with China’s largest firm, Dacheng, and has since snapped up firms everywhere from Central America to Australia, giving it a total lawyer headcount in excess of 8,000.

Despite the firm having such reach, Dentons’ UK and Middle East chief executive Jeremy Cohen said from the point of view of the UK part of the business having a presence in Scotland had become essential.

“Dentons has grown hugely in global terms in quite a short time but we have had ambitions for some time to grow in the UK,” he said.

“If you look at the way the largest clients in the UK are procuring legal services now, something we notice time and again is that they are generally reducing the number of firms that they will work with.

“If they move from having seven relationships to three or four then a firm that can offer both [English and Scottish legal advice] is clearly going to be put in a strong position.”

While both Dentons and MMS feature on the legal panels of the likes of Royal Bank of Scotland and Network Rail, the intention now is to collectively market the enlarged firm to new clients as a one-stop UK shop.

“The first thing we do when we announce such a deal is to allow a period of time before we become legally combined,” Mr Cohen said.

“The second layer is working with each other and across clients. Our experience is that that works really quickly. We have a very good track record of talking to clients.”

Mr Shand said Dentons’ international network would also be of benefit to MMS’s clients, which at the moment have to instruct different firms in each jurisdiction they operate in.

“We’ve always had an international type of client base - even if you go back to the 1870s we acted for shipping and whisky clients so its always been in our DNA,” he said.

“We’ve a client about ton do something in the Far East and they can ship right into Dentons' network."