The number one, third sector and charity law firm in Scotland.


Burness Paul is committed to providing charities, and the wider third sector, with the highest quality of legal advice – delivered in a way which reflects and reinforces the special ethos and values of the sector.

That's why we've built a reputation for focused and efficient legal support, closely attuned to the latest developments in charity law and governance.

What sets our third sector and charity lawyers apart?

Burness Paull's core third sector and charity team is made up of corporate and commercial lawyers who have chosen to specialise in this field – with a real understanding of the dynamics of third sector organisations as well as the environment in which they work.

They bring to bear leading-edge expertise in the legal structures specific to this sector, as well as unrivalled experience in working with OSCR (the Scottish charities regulator); and a reputation for innovation which is second-to-none.

We also have specialist property, employment, pensions and IP / IT lawyers who have strong experience of working with third sector organisations. They are well-placed to engage in a way which closely aligns with a third sector client’s requirements, whenever support in those areas is required.

The firm has been at the forefront of virtually every new development in third sector legal models.

This includes ground-breaking work on models for joint ventures and community share issues, new approaches to mergers and consortium working, and new legal entities (CICs, LLPs and SCIOs).

And, of course, supporting social enterprises and other third sector organisations in taking up new and expanding opportunities - in delivery of public services, community empowerment, and community energy.

"Collaborative, consultative, thorough, and responsive."
- Client quote, Chambers 2019

Burness Paull's expertise in third sector and charity:

The team's work in third sector legal structures includes:

  • Applications for charitable status
  • Companies limited by guarantee
  • Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisations
  • Community Interest Companies
  • Change of legal form
  • Subsidiaries, and more complex group structures
  • Social Enterprises
  • Community Energy
  • Third sector mergers
  • Community share issues
  • Collaborative working
  • Consortium arrangements
  • Joint ventures
  • Commercial contracts and funding agreements (including service delivery agreements with local authorities)
Understanding of the third sector

Burness Paull has the largest client base of any legal firm in Scotland in the third sector, particularly in the areas of greatest growth/activity such as social enterprises and development trusts. We have close relationships with virtually all the key umbrella bodies and have made a significant contribution to the development of best practice – including template constitutions and guidance which serve as a resource for third sector organisations across Scotland. The strength of our practice, and our reputation within third sector and charities, has enabled us to contribute actively to a wide range of strategic developments affecting the sector.

Reputation for innovation

We have a string of 'firsts' to our name – including the first Community Interest Company in Scotland, the first Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO), the first Limited Liability Partnership model in a third sector context, and the first community share vehicle in Scotland to achieve charitable status. One of our particular strengths is in developing innovative legal structures for a wide range of partnership projects – joint ventures, collaborations and more informal partnering arrangements. These skills are becoming increasingly important, as charities adapt to a more challenging environment through new ways of working.

Development Trusts

Our third sector and charity lawyers have a longstanding involvement with the development trust movement, ranging from one-to-one advice for individual development trusts through to sectoral work for Development Trusts Association Scotland - including model constitutions and guidance notes, discussions with OSCR to develop clear guidelines on the boundaries of charitable status, and recent work with Community Shares Scotland on new template BenCom rules to facilitate community share issues.

We are able to offer leading-edge expertise on:

  • Community energy projects
  • Community right to buy, community asset transfer, and other community empowerment opportunities
  • Trading subsidiaries, joint ventures, and partnership structures
  • Community share issues
  • Bringing existing organisations under a group structure
Community Renewables

We have a strong specialist practice in community renewables and the wider field of community energy – aligning our specialist practice in third sector legal structures with the technical skills and experience of the firm's wider renewables team. We have contributed to a number of new developments in the community energy field, including new joint venture models and innovative approaches to local energy distribution.

Our experience includes:

  • Community-owned windfarms
  • Joint ventures
  • Revenue-sharing models
  • Structures for investment into private sector-led renewables projects
  • Development of bespoke structures for distribution of community benefit funds
  • Models for energy storage, community heating systems, and local energy distribution.
Social Enterprises

The social enterprise sector has grown from what was once seen as a fringe area into something that is now widely recognised as a sound alternative to conventional business models and a significant part of Scotland’s economy.

We work closely with ‘Firstport’ in providing templates which can be accessed by budding social enterprises, as well as delivering training and providing one-to-one support. At the other end of the scale, our client base includes some of Scotland’s largest social enterprises, often operating under complex group structures; and we have strong experience in working with them in acquiring or disposing of business operations, attracting investment capital from the private sector and/or tailoring joint venture arrangements – as well as bidding for major service delivery contracts and negotiating grants and loans.

The team's experience includes:

  • Exploring options for the legal structure, including community interest companies, sister charities, multi-stakeholder models, group structures
  • Acquiring and disposing of business operations
  • Structuring investment from private sector investors
  • Developing joint venture, partnering, and consortium vehicles
  • Assisting in tender processes for service delivery contracts
  • Negotiating and documenting grants and loans (including security arrangements).
"They're very good, very helpful, very understanding and very giving."
- Client quote, Chambers 2019