City law firms have long held the cachet in the legal industry. But the regions are fighting back, attracting talent with the promise of more flexible ways of working and the opportunity to really shape the development of the local firm.

Rise of the regions

The likes of Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester have seen exciting growth in the past few years. While some of this has been down to London law firms looking for lower cost service centres, many others are there to tap into burgeoning legal markets that offer lucrative and high-profile work.

For business services professionals, these developments offer excellent career potential, and the chance for a lifestyle overhaul. Commute times can often be quicker and less pressured, living costs can be lower, and quality of life arguably better.

Indeed, Manchester is the best UK city to live in, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Survey 2015. The survey, which rated cities on areas such as healthcare, education, stability, culture and environment and infrastructure, put Manchester at 46th place of the 140 assessed, ahead of London, which was 53rd on the list.

So, what can you expect around the regions? Here’s a run-down:

Manchester

There’s much more to the former industrial city than Corrie, Morrissey and overpaid footballers. Manchester has shaped up to become a top tech and media city and is home to a vast financial and professional services sector.

Several law firms are demonstrating their commitment to the city with a number of moves scheduled in the next few years as prestigious new office buildings are built. Shoosmiths, which is on course to increase its head count from 160 staff to more than 300 by 2019, will move to the new XYZ Building in the Spinningfields business district. The firm says that the decision was driven by market demand and a reflection of Manchester's 'astonishing' momentum.

DLA Piper is also relocating from 101 Barbirolli Square, where it has been based for almost 20 years, to One St Peter's Square, a landmark building which is also home to KPMG.

Freshfields, which opened its Freshfields Global Centre (Europe) in Manchester in July 2015, to accommodate legal services staff, as well as elements of HR, IT, marketing and business development, will move to 80,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art offices at One New Bailey, near Spinningfields, from 2017.  

Other firms that have headed to Manchester include Berwin Leighton Paisner, which chose the city to base its legal services delivery team, as part of its new Integrated Client Service Model. Latham & Watkins is also creating a new business services office in the city, praising the region’s ‘highly qualified talent pool’ and connectivity.

The lifestyle: Manchester ranked 26th on the New York Times list of ‘places to visit in 2015’, above Rome and Miami Beach. While Manchester doesn’t exactly have their climate, the newspaper praised its cultural attractions such as the renovated Whitworth Art Gallery. Although the notorious Hacienda club has long gone, night-owls can enjoy a lively dining scene and acclaimed theatres. Live in a city penthouse on the 17th floor of the Great Northern Tower for £600,000 or a villa with pool in the upmarket village of Alderley Edge for £2.5m. 

Birmingham

As we discussed in our recent blog (LINK) Birmingham is seeing an impressive amount of investment in projects such as Snow Hill, known as Birmingham’s ‘Canary Wharf’, which promises to be the largest professional and financial services hub outside of London.

Hogan Lovells opened its legal services centre in Birmingham last year with 20 lawyers, carrying out work including due diligence, document reviews, and contract amendments, and plans to double its number of lawyers to 40 by the end of the year. 

KPMG, which was awarded an alternative business structure license in 2014, is launching a legal services practice in Birmingham to add to its existing capability in London and Manchester.

The lifestyle: While the city is home to the famous Balti Triangle, it also boasts five Michelin-starred restaurants. Culture vultures can get their thrills with more than 500,000 works of art in one square mile or head to the most popular theatre in the UK. Sports lovers will be happy with cricket at Edgbaston and athletics at its UK home Alexander Stadium. Live in a 9-bedroom Edwardian home with a cinema for £3m, or a rural barn conversion for £500,000.

Bristol

Legal 500 notes that Bristol is a strong example of where a flourishing local legal market has successfully expanded beyond its geographic area to attract the attention of national clients and international firms.

Simmons & Simmons, for example, has just celebrated its third year in the city. The firm chose Bristol for its second UK office, with the purpose of undertaking complex, high value work for clients in a more efficient and cost effective way. It started with just 15 people but has grown to more than 100, and is planning further growth.

Regional heavyweights include Burges Salmon, Osborne Clarke, TLT, Bond Dickinson and Foot Anstey. Several law firms are clustered around the business district of Temple Quay, which is also home to the likes of Deloitte, HSBC and Bank of Ireland.

The lifestyle: Bristol was named as the best city in the UK to live in, thanks to its “varied and beautiful housing stock, decent schools, buzzy culture and nightlife and access to some fantastic countryside” according to The Sunday Times last year. Bristol also has strong transport links, and by 2017 train journey times to London will be cut to 80 minutes. It’s a relaxed city with plenty of independent shops and cafes. Live in a Grade II listed Georgian townhouse for £2m or a high-end waterfront apartment in a former brewery for £600k.

Bag packing?

Of course, this is just a snapshot of some of the developments across the regions. Other cities too, are witnessing big changes in their legal landscape. 

Obviously, the choice of City vs the regions is deeply individual. For some, the vibrancy of London is everything. It is truly a world-class and global city. But London is not the be all and end all, and with the pace of development in the regions, there are world-class opportunities for talented business services professionals.

 

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