Growth in UK-wide roles

We work with a wide variety of law firms of all sizes, national and international, giving us a unique perspective on change within the market. And among the trends we’ve noticed are increased opportunities for talent outside of London.

This has been propelled by the top 100 firms moving more of their operations to other areas of the UK. But it also reflects the continued ability of more of these firms to hold their own, often working with major clients every bit as attractive as those boasted by firms in the capital. It’s striking, for instance, that we are recruiting across all types of businesses from leading global law firms to niche operators.

Our experiences are backed up by broader research. A story from the Financial Times around this time last year, based on Office for National Statistics figures and commissioned by Leeds Law Society and Leeds City Council, claimed Leeds saw a 20 per cent rise in the number of legal jobs between 2010 and 2015 compared to a five per cent in London.

And Leeds isn’t alone - the amount of square-foot space taken by law firms is growing across cities like Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Confidence boost: South East survey 2017

 

In 2018, we expect to be working more with firms and candidates across UK locations as this continues. Indeed, this inspired some of our conversations and research in 2017. In particular, we conducted a survey in the south east - in partnership with accountancy firm Kreston Reeves - asking firms their opinion on issues including strategy, people, leadership and salaries.

The findings made it clear smaller “regional” firms offer a huge variety of experience. And the breadth of respondents ranged from firms of just one or two partners up to those with 80 lawyers.

From one firm that seems to be struggling – mentioning “survival” as a key reason for all activity – others appear to be comfortably profitable with optimistic forecasts. Most predicted a surprisingly strong percentage fee growth in 2017/18, one by as much as 50 per cent, and continuing into 2018/19, where growth forecasts range from five to 50 per cent.

Overall positivity is also reflected in the threats perceived. Although economic uncertainty and stagnation were cited by most, a third didn’t rate it as a threat. Firms seemed far more concerned with competitor activity and branding.

Merger was also listed low – perhaps reflecting the niche focus of many smaller firms, and their ability to carve out a space for themselves. Interestingly none of them said they were part of a network like Quality Solicitors either. If they can turn a profit independently they will.

There also seems to be a healthy recognition of the value of business services functions, with even the smallest firms having professionals across all main divisions.

Of course, this snapshot doesn’t do justice to the vast range of firms operating across the UK. But what struck us is the positive vibe. There is a real sense of determination to survive and preserve independence. But there are also signs of clarity over how to achieve that, not by merging but by raising profile in target markets, focusing on niche sectors and improving business development.

This research provided us with insights into a specific sample but combined with our experience of working with all sizes of UK law firms as well as the service centres of global firms, the picture is clear: there are growing opportunities for talent to not only move away from London but to also enjoy a variety of opportunities once they get there.

JR

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