Regional focus: Southampton
24 July 2013 | By Richard Simmons
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If you’re not from the South Coast, Southampton is one of those cities that you might only visit if you went to university there – or if you were catching the Isle of Wight ferry.
It doesn’t have the cool or edgy reputation of Leeds or Manchester, and it’s not renowned for its natural beauty, historic interest or famous sons (as yet, there is no Craig David tourist trail).
Yet those who do come to study at one of Southampton’s two universities often fall in love with it. There’s currently no LPC provider operating in the city, so Southampton graduates must strike out to Bournemouth, Guildford, Bristol or further afield for law school, but many soon return.
One such graduate is newly-qualified solicitor David Wathen. After studying law at Southampton University, he moved away from the area, but it wasn’t long before he was back. “While undertaking my Master’s it became clear to me that I wanted to work for a large commercial law firm,” he says.
“Through the interview process it was obvious to me that working for a national firm outside of London would provide me with the opportunities to gain more client exposure and hands-on experience while also maintaining a work-life balance and Southampton and the firm matched my criteria perfectly.”
Wathen’s firm, Bond Dickinson, is one of the major players in Southampton’s legal market. Until May 2013, it was Bond Pearce, but a merger with Northern giant Dickinson Dees has seen it become part of a much larger firm with national reach.
Other significant firms in the city include national outfits Shoosmiths and Clarke Willmott, South of England heavy-hitter Blake Lapthorn, and the likes of Trethowans, Thomas Eggar, Paris Smith and Coffin Mew, sizeable commercial firms with a more local footprint.
Help for heroes
This roster of commercial firms can take advantage of easy access to London and the Solent region’s many businesses.
Southampton has a proud maritime history that continues to this day. The marine sector employs more than 48,000 people in the region and is worth around £3.6bn to the local economy.
A £70m loan from the European Investment Bank signed off in July 2013 has kickstarted a major project to develop the docks should provide the city with yet more jobs, as well as boosting its international trade links.
Away from the port, many firms on the South Coast act for yacht owners and clients with waterside property.
There’s a big military presence in the region, in particular the naval base in nearby Portsmouth, and several firms have teams specifically dedicated to advising members of the armed forces.
Meanwhile, major aerospace companies including Boeing and BAE Systems are peppered across the Solent area.
Newcastle-born Paddy Goodings is a new junior barrister at Southampton’s College Chambers. What does he make of his adopted city having moved from the other end of the country?
It’s a “no-nonsense” kind of place, Goodings summarises, perhaps seeing similarities with his home town on the Tyne. “Southampton is a young ‘rough and ready’ city with a lot of good bars and restaurants and with an active young professional scene there is plenty of scope to let off some steam.”
“It’s a gateway city,” he adds, “with great transport links to other many other large cities including London. For work, this means that the cases I can undertake are spread over a large area. Socially, I can experience many new places and activities.”
Luke Murphy, vice president of the Hampshire Junior Lawyers Division and a trainee at Clarke Willmott, concurs – though he cites his season ticket at Reading Football Club as a key motivation for wanting to stay in the South.
But, he says, being based in Southampton means “I can drive to work, visit London in an hour if I need to and pop down to Dorset and Devon in a weekend – and all at a cheaper cost of living.”
The local Junior Lawyer’s Division is always an important part of life for trainees at regional firms due to the social and networking opportunities it provides. Fortunately, Southampton’s is in good shape.
“We cover Southampton, Portsmouth, Winchester and the surrounding areas and have approximately 70 members, comprised of paralegals, trainees, pupil barristers, newly qualified solicitors and junior lawyers,” says Murphy.
“We run personal development workshops; for example, negotiation skills and advocacy training.”
“We also hold networking events with non-legal professionals, including our annual ‘speed networking’ in February.” Meanwhile, monthly ‘Finally Friday’ drinks and a new Solent Business Ball offer young lawyers a chance to let their hair down.
And, despite not being regarded as the most of beautiful cities, Southampton is not without its charms.
The New Forest lies to the West and the South Downs to the East, while the Miller’s Pond nature reserve is one of the most beautiful green spaces tucked quietly away in corners of the city (it provided early inspiration for TV naturalist Chris Packham).
Party animals aren’t short of entertainment, either. There are a wealth of clubs, pubs and music venues. In fact, one Southampton student favourite made national headlines for legal reasons not so long ago.
The Hobbit, an old-school boozer cum live music venue, was accused of copyright infringement and threatened with legal action by the Saul Zaentz Company – the Hollywood film company that owns the rights to JRR Tolkien’s Hobbit brand.
Fortunately, Gandalf himself stepped in to lend a hand. Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry clubbed together to pay the pub’s copyright licence fee.
So, Southampton – defended by wizards, beloved by naturalists and home to lots of busy junior lawyers. It may not shout about itself too much, but this understated city has a lot to offer.
Convince cab drivers you’re a local by…
Opining on the fortunes of the city’s Premiership football team: “Don’t get me wrong, I loved Nigel Adkins but you can’t deny that Pochettino’s done a good job so far…”
Deciding where you stand on the council’s plans to sell off items from Southampton’s (largely hidden from public view) £150m art collection: “It’s a disgrace – show us the Monet!” / “Who cares about a bunch of pictures anyway? Sell ’em and cut car parking charges.”
Additional reporting by Luke Murphy, trainee solicitor at Clarke Willmott