Regional focus: Bristol
6 March 2014
22 October 2013
5 February 2014
29 January 2014
6 February 2014
7 July 2014
There’s a line in an old Beautiful South song: ‘How can you like it here when it never even rains?’
Bristol is an undeniably soggy city, and Lawyer 2B visited it during one of the wettest months in recorded history, but the rain refuses to dampen the spirits of the capital of the West, which has undergone a renaissance in the last decade.
“The Cabot Circus area has undergone a massive redevelopment, of course,” says second-year Osborne Clarke trainee James Taylor, a Bristol native. “That has made a big difference. I don’t know if you remember what that area was like before but essentially there wasn’t much there, yet it was the first thing people arriving in the city off the motorway saw. Now I think people get a very different perception of what Bristol is about.“ Cabot Circus is now a genuinely nice shopping complex, giving Bristol, says Taylor, “an area like the Bullring in Birmingham – the sort of area that a lot of cities had but which Bristol was previously missing.”
Among those pulling off the M32 to sample Bristol’s charms are the UK’s two largest law schools, BPP and the University of Law, who arrived on the scene four years back, breaking the University of the West of England’s monopoly on LPC places in the city.
Two City law firms, Simmons & Simmons and RPC, have followed hot on their heels. “The fact that London firms are coming here is very exiting because it suggest the city has something to give,” says Taylor’s fellow trainee Caroline Bush.
Part of the reason is that, following the recession, London firms have been thinking about moving some of their work out of the Square Mile in order to provide high-quality legal advice at regional prices: “That is a big drive in Bristol,” says Oliver Coad of TLT.
In fact, the London firms entering the South West are chasing after work that has already migrated to the regions. “Many of the companies that would have traditionally have used the large City players are starting to discover that they can get as good a service outside of London in a much more cost-effective way. Some of the work we’re getting is really good,” Coad’s trainee colleague Joanna Newton adds.
So Simmons and RPC have joined what was already a healthy legal market, with a handful of big players and a good number of mid-size to smaller firms.
Bond Dickinson, Clarke Willmott and Veale Wasbrough Vizards are notable firms in the city, but Bristol’s three big boys are undoubtedly Burges Salmon, Osborne Clarke and TLT, though their personalities are all very different. Founded in 1841, Burges Salmon exudes a classic aura and works out of one office – albeit a snazzy new one that you can’t miss when you pull into Temple Meads station.
Osborne Clarke is in fact even older but has embraced the IT and tech sectors and likes to present a more funky persona than Burges Salmon. It operates out of Reading and London as well as its Bristol home. James Taylor and Caroline Bush, both second-years at the firm, have between them completed seats in banking, private equity, restructuring and insolvency, residential development, projects and commercial litigation. “It’s diverse to say the least,” laughs Bush.
TLT is the youngster of the three: formed in 2000 through a merger of Trumps and Lawrence Tucketts, it has quickly expanded and now has offices all over the UK, though Bristol remains its largest office.
Despite their different styles, what all three firms have in common is a genuinely broad client base which is by no means restricted to the South West. For example, Eurostar is a marquee client for Burges Salmon’s transport group. Big in the banking sector, TLT acts for the likes of Barclays and RBS (Newton in particular has had a finance-heavy training contract, including a secondment to a large financial institution) And Osborne Clarke isn’t shy to shout about the fact that it is an advisor to one of the world’s biggest brands – Facebook.
It can’t hurt that many big businesses have a presence in Bristol. “It’s far enough away from London to mean that companies don’t always go to London, but it’s close enough that if people need to go there it’s easy,” I’m told at Osborne Clarke.
“Creative industries and knowledge industries – so banking, finance and intermediaries like accountants” are key to Bristol’s current success. On the creative side, Aardman Animation (of Wallace and Gromit fame) is a native of the city, while the BBC has one of its largest offices outside London here.
As for ‘knowledge industries’, the little Temple Quay complex where most of the law firms are based is packed full of banks – Deloitte, Bank of Ireland and RBS to name but three. The Ministry of Defence, Grant Thornton, Imperial Tobacco and BAE Systems are other major employers.
So that’s the work. Talk turns to what sets Bristol apart from other UK cities. Perhaps it’s that there’s something endearingly anti-establishment about the place. It’s like a favourite uncle that might put on a suit for weddings but still has a rebellious streak underneath. There are a number of unrelated factors that, when put together, highlight the fact that Bristol is a little bit unorthodox.
The success of Banksy, one of the city’s most famous sons, has sparked a riot of sanctioned street art – Nelson Street is a hotspot, but genuinely impressive graffiti can be spotted in unexpected side-streets and suburbs.
Bristol was the only English city that, in 2012, voted in favour of emulating London and having a mayor with substantial powers. They promptly elected a red-trousered independent candidate – a respected architect and entrepreneur – and have been cheerfully making fun of him ever since.
The ‘People’s Republic of Stokes Croft’ has arisen to champion one of the city’s most deprived areas, and promote it as a cultural quarter. It was this area that protested so vigorously against the arrival of a Tesco Express store in 2011.
Also, beards are definitely more popular here.
The trainees agree, however, that it’s the “community spirit” that makes Bristol special. “It’s obviously quite a large city, but it feels like it’s not: there’s quite a village-y atmosphere which I’ve never felt in other places,” says James Taylor.
Meanwhile, “everything you can get in London you can get here,” Suzanne Staunton, a junior barrister at Guildhall Chambers, declares confidently. “And this is coming from a Londoner.” Staunton moved to Bristol relatively recently, having lived in London all her life, and is clearly enjoying herself.
She identifies the large number of thriving independent businesses as indicative of Bristol’s community spirit. Looking it up later, Lawyer 2B discovers that about 80 indie ventures trade in the compact Shopping Quarter alone. There are a preponderance of shops selling work by local artists – often with a local theme. Bristolian paraphernalia abounds. There are t-shirts with the unlikely slogans of ’Gurt Lush’ and ‘Cheers Drive’, suburb-themed greetings cards promoting fictional societies (Bishopston Badger Brigade, Totterdown Tawny Owls), and colouring books themed around famous Bristolian graffiti.
“Or take this place,” Staunton says, gesturing to tiny café we’re sitting in – Small Street Espresso. “Not only does it do fantastic coffee, but I know the guy behind the counter, and he’s the owner as well – it’s nice.” Indeed, the owner, who has been listening in, joins in the conversation and even throws in the offer of a free coffee.
Among Staunton’s other discoveries are Horts, a pub with a cinema in the back where you can watch films in “huge leather chairs – it’s awesome,” Bravas on Cotham Hill (“the best tapas I’ve ever had, the two Spanish guys who run it took two months off to source all the suppliers and ingredients”) – and Rosemarino in Clifton (“get the Rosemarino breakfast: it is EPIC”).
There are pubs and bars to cater to all tastes. “It’s quite common to find TLT people in Toto’s, a nice wine bar on the river – or if it’s closer to payday we’ll go to the Rummer.” Osborne Clarke nights often begin in “the Noobs” – the Cornubia, a more traditional pub hidden away on Temple Street. But “the beauty of Bristol is that the centre is really very compact, and there are so many options. So we might leave the office and wander into St Nick’s market and then Corn Street and then almost without realising it you’re in a club at the top of Park Street.”
“I still work as hard as I did in London – it’s just a nicer atmosphere once you leave the office,” Staunton says, and the Osborne Clarke trainees agree that the work-life balance enjoyed by lawyers at top firms in the regions is largely down to the lack of a commute rather than a less demanding schedule. “We work late and then walk home in ten minutes.”
Staunton has the final word, advising those thinking of coming fresh to the city: “Don’t worry about making friends – I didn’t think I would make such good friends so quickly as I have.”
“Partly that’s because there’s such a good community of young professionals – but also it’s because people are willing to chat to you!”
With plenty of work and a good quality of life, the only thing Bristol’s professionals really have to worry about is the rain. But then, you can always invest in an umbrella…
Perhaps the ultimate embodiment of Bristol’s community spirit comes in the form of Gromit the dog. His likeness was all over Bristol in 2013, as part of a massive public art project to raise money for the Bristol Children’s Hospital. Gromit Unleashed saw 80 statues of the city’s most famous hound dotted abut the city, decorated by famous artists and sponsored by local companies.
“I think it shows the character of Bristol,” says Oliver Coad. “I’m not sure there are many cities that would pull something like that off with quite the same aplomb.”
“There were 80 and I saw 79. We missed the one in the library because it was closed when we went to see it…”
“It was amazing: the adults enjoyed it more than the children!” Newton adds. “TLT sponsored one in Castle Park – it was called Collarful.”
In the interests of fariness, it should be mentioned that four other firms – Clarke Willmott, Osborne Clarke, Veale Wasbrough Vizards and Burges Salmon – also sponsored statues. The latter two firms later bought theirs at auction, so look out for ‘Lancelot’ or ‘Sir Gromit of Bristol’ if you’re ever in reception at Burges Salmon or VWV.