With an increasing emphasis on efficiency, law firms in London are looking at lower cost locations in which to base parts of their operations. The regions are typically a darn sight cheaper than the capital – office rental rates in Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, for example, are less than half of those in the City of London where £68.50 per sq ft is typical, according to global real estate advisor CBRE. But cost is only part of the draw with regional cities establishing their kudos for innovation, as well as offering smart new office developments and a wide talent pool.  

Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright has been running a pilot project in Newcastle for over a year and is set to expand this further, moving into new premises in the city’s Quayside and creating 100 new jobs over the next few years. The Legal Process Hub currently has a team of 28, which includes lawyers, paralegals, legal technologists and process designers, and focuses on innovation in legal technology and data research. The firm sees the hub as a centre of excellence, supporting both internal teams and delivering new services to clients.  

Earlier this year, Freshfields took up residence at One New Bailey, a grand new development in Manchester (strictly speaking it’s just over the border in Salford), where it occupies 80,000 sq ft. Manchester is the home of its Legal Services Centre, which carries out a range of tasks across the firm’s practice areas including document reviews, due diligence, and non-disclosure agreements, assisted by AI and machine-learning.

Such developments should be of interest to the business services professional looking for new opportunities. A report from CBRE in 2016 looked in detail at the factors influencing law firms in their decisions to expand into the regions with several expressing ambitions to create centres of excellence, deliver process innovation, and provide a more complete offering to clients. Such ambitions call for a broad range of skillsets and fresh thinking.

They are also using these hubs to look at new and more collegiate ways of working, with the chance to design a new office building to their exact requirements (they are demanding top-spec places to maintain brand reputation and attract the best talent).

The rate of growth looks positive. A story in the Financial Times earlier this year pointed to research, based on Office for National Statistics figures and commissioned by Leeds Law Society and Leeds City Council, which claimed that Leeds saw a 20% rise in the number of legal jobs between 2010 and 2015 compared to 5% in London.

So how does each region fare?

 

Which is the best or the biggest is a contentious debate indeed. Much depends on what is being measured. The CBRE report looked at how much real estate was being occupied by law firms in the UK Top 100. It found that Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester each has well over 750,000 sq ft of office space occupied by law firms, ahead of Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow, with volumes in the 300-500,000 sq ft range. While Bristol tops the table in terms of total legal office space, Manchester is the largest city when it comes to the widest representation of firms in the Top 100 and has the largest number of fee-earners.

The wise diplomat would say that each region has its strengths and attractions. In terms of lifestyle, Bristol was named the best place to live in Britain by the Sunday Times (although MoneySupermarket found it was the worst place to be a driver!) whereas Leeds was nicknamed ‘Knightsbridge of the North’ for its high-end shopping – a pro or a con, depending on your view. 

While we’ll leave that one for others to mull over, what is clear is that these developments are reflected in the growing number of positions we are recruiting for in the regions. Just a snapshot of our recent regional titles includes Key Account Manager, Financial Controller, Business Manager, BD Executive and right up to Director of BD and Marketing and Chief Executive Officer. Interesting roles for the right candidates are opening up all the time.

Drop us a line if you would be interested in discussing these or other opportunities. We are always happy to discuss market developments and the latest opportunities for business services professionals in London and beyond.

 

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