Burnett and Reid

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Burnett & Reid LLP
Headquarters Aberdeen, Scotland
Major practice areas Estate factoring, rural land management
Key people Alastair Robertson
Date founded 1754
Founder William Burnett
Company type Limited liability partnership

Burnett & Reid is a full service law firm based in Aberdeen, Scotland. The firm is the oldest legal practice in the city and one of the longest established legal practices in the United Kingdom.[1][non-primary source needed]


Burnett & Reid LLP are noted for their expertise in Agricultural Law by Chambers & Partners,[2] but their full practice includes the areas of:

  • Agricultural Law
  • Commercial Property
  • Corporate Law
  • Litigation
  • Oil & Gas Law
  • Private Client
  • Renewables
  • Residential Property
  • Trust Law

The firm are also members of the ASPC.[3]


”William Burnett, Advocate in Aberdeen”[edit]

William Burnett

The firm was first established by William Burnett on 11 July 1754, when Burnett was fully admitted to membership of Society of Advocates.[4] William Burnett had studied at King's College (now The University of Aberdeen) for four years from 1746 to 1750,[4] during which time Aberdeen was emerging from a state of desperate poverty and beginning to prosper owing in some measure at least to the money brought into the town first by the troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie and later by the Duke of Cumberland's garrison.[5][6] In those early days of the business Aberdeen was still a small town of not more than 10,000 inhabitants. In the 1770s William Burnett bought a house and garden in North Street, Aberdeen in association with Thomas Barron, but it by no means follows that he practised law there. In the eighteenth century much business was simply transacted at the vintners' and coffee shops.

The firm traded initially as "William Burnett, Advocate in Aberdeen" and by 1758 acted as Clerk to the Commissioners of Supply.[7] The Commissioners of Supply were an early form of local government whose duties included collecting the “Cess” or “Land Tax” for the local area and the allocation of its expenditure between the Police, the Roads, Bridges and Ferries and other objects. [8] They also had the duty of preparing the Valuation Roll of land, which was an important matter as the right to vote depended upon the valuation until the Reform Act of 1832. [9] As seen the role of Clerk to the Commissioners of Supply was a broad one, and in that capacity the legal practice even inserted an advertisement in the Aberdeen Journal inviting volunteers for Captain Cosmo Gordon’s company in His Majesty’s Third Regiment of Foot Guards (“the Scots Guards”) under the Recruiting Act of 1775.

The Clerkship of Supply for the Shires of Aberdeen and Kincardine remained in the hands of the principals of the firm for well over a hundred years, but landed property and management were certainly the main concerns of the legal practice from the beginning. William Burnett's elder brother, Lord Monboddo, took pride in the character of “Farmer Burnett” when entertaining Dr Samuel Johnson at Monboddo Estate, and was an enthusiastic improver of agriculture.[10] The firm managed the Monboddo Estate and also Ellon and its associated estates, then in the hands of the Earl of Aberdeen.

Burnett was also Procurator Fiscal of Aberdeenshire from 1759 to 1805, a Guild burgess of Aberdeen and Commissioner for Lord Forbes.[4]

“William & Thomas Burnett, Advocates in Aberdeen”[edit]

Thomas Burnett

William’s sixth son Thomas Burnett joined the business in 1796 and the firm began trading as “William & Thomas Burnett, Advocates in Aberdeen”.[4] Following William’s death in 1811, Thomas became the senior partner of the firm in succession to his father.[7][4]

Under Thomas the legal practice continued to act as Clerks of Supply to which was added the role of Clerk of Lieutenancy, in terms of which roles the firm was responsible for the stores and equipment of the militia and for organising the whole business of recruitment and the commissioning of officers.[4] A letter on the call-up of further militiamen is one of the very few bearing Thomas Burnett's autograph signature which have been preserved and was no doubt one of a long series of similar directions, the militia having first been called out six years before.

However, Thomas Burnett's military duties were not confined to official writings. Volunteer forces had been raised in Aberdeen not so many years before, in 1779, for an object which seems strange in our days. In that year, the Society of Advocates, William Burnett being present at the meeting, had unanimously voted 100 guineas to the magistrates' fund towards raising Aberdeen Volunteers "for reducing the [American] colonies to their former subjection”. Thomas was young and vigorous and was commissioned as Junior Lieutenant in the Corps of Royal Aberdeen Volunteers in September, 1797 and gazetted Captain 13 August 1802.[4]

In regard to the legal practice Thomas also acted as Procurator Fiscal of Aberdeenshire in succession to his father from 1805 to 1811 and there were also added to the duties of the firm several other responsible and honourable offices, including Clerk to the Turnpike Trustees, Justice of the Peace, Assessor to Marischal College, Purse Bearer to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and Directorship of the Aberdeen Banking Company.[7][4]

Like his father Thomas was also for a period the Treasurer and subsequently President of the Society of Advocates.

Thomas opened offices at 25 Belmont Street in 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo, and was certainly a prominent figure in Aberdeen in his day, serving on the Committee of the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for over thirty years, and on that of the Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum.

As a memorial to his long tenure of the office of Clerk of Supply a portrait was painted by Sir John Watson Gordon and was originally hung in the County Hall of Aberdeen, but now hangs in the library of the firm. To the testimonial, which included this portrait, eight Noblemen, nine Baronets and Knights, and one hundred and twelve landed proprietors, were subscribers.[4]

”Thomas & Newell Burnett, Advocates in Aberdeen”[edit]

Newell Burnett

Thomas was joined in the business in 1823 by his son Newell Burnett, who had been educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Marischal College,[7][4] at which time the firm began trading as ”Thomas & Newell Burnett, Advocates in Aberdeen”.[4]

On his father's death in 1854, Newell succeeded to the various County appointments and the Directorship of the bank his father had held,[7][4] adding to the responsibilities of the firm the roles of Clerk to the Prison Board for the County of Aberdeen, General Clerk to the Aberdeenshire Road Trustees, Directorships of the Great North of Scotland Railway, Trustee and Manager of the National Security Savings’ Bank of Aberdeen, and Keeper of Sasines for the Shires of Aberdeen and Kincardine.

Newell first moved the firm’s offices to the New Record Office, 27 King Street, Aberdeen which were available to him as Keeper of Sasines and in 1872 (following the abolishment of the local role in 1869) once again moved the firm to the new County Buildings in Castle Street, Aberdeen where the Commissioners of Supply had official quarters.

As a memorial to his long tenure of the office of Clerk of Supply a portrait was painted by E. U. Eddis and was originally hung in the County Hall of Aberdeen but which now hangs in the library of the firm.[4]

”Burnett & Reid”[edit]

Following the death of his father, Newell Burnett assumed John Reid as a partner in the firm, thus giving the practice the name of Burnett & Reid. On the death of Newell Burnett in 1878, John Reid became the first senior partner of the firm not to bear the name “Burnett”.

Under Reid’s leadership the firm appointed two apprentices, John Reid Dean (an uncle of the late Lord Mackenzie-Stuart, President of the European Court of Justice), and William John Woodman Smith. A number of the roles in which the firm had previously acted having become defunct, Reid took on a Directorship of the Northern Assurance Company and of the City of Aberdeen Land Association. He also served as a Member of the General Council of the University of Aberdeen and was, like William Burnett before him, a Guild burgess of Aberdeen. Both John Reid Dean and William John Woodman Smith were eventually assumed as partners in 1886, but the firm continue to bear the name of Burnett & Reid.[4]


  1. ^ "About Us, Burnett & Reid, Solicitors & Estate Agents". Burnett-reid.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  2. ^ Firm Lawyer Barrister Set. "Agriculture & Rural Affairs - Scotland - Editorial - Chambers and Partners recommended lists of the world’s best lawyers, top law firms, attorneys, advocates, solicitors and barristers". Chambersandpartners.com. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  3. ^ "Property Solicitors in Aberdeenshire". ASPC. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Henderson, John Alexander (1929). "A History of the Society of Advocates in Aberdeen", Aberdeen: Aberdeen University
  5. ^ Keith, Alexander (1987). A Thousand Years of Aberdeen, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press
  6. ^ "Fort Cumberland". Rgc.aberdeen.sch.uk. 2013-07-30. Retrieved 2014-02-20. 
  7. ^ a b c d e The Aberdeen Journal, Thursday 21 November 1878, pg 2 "The Late Mr Newell Burnett", The British Newspaper Archive
  8. ^ "Act of the convention of estates of the kingdome of Scotland etc. for ane new and voluntar offer to his majestie of seventie two thousand pounds monethlie for the space of twelve moneths", records of the Parliaments of Scotland, University of St Andrews, 23 January 1667. "Act anent highways and bridges", records of the Parliaments of Scotland, University of St Andrews, 28 May 1686. "Highway (Scotland) Act 1718 (1718 c. 30)"
  9. ^ http://www.saa.gov.uk/resources/272882/RecruitmentInfo20110704.pdf
  10. ^ Boswell, James (1785). The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samual Johnson, LL.D. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/6018/pg6018.html