The White Rose, the Rat and good old Uncle Sam wouldn’t appear to have much in common, but for Yorkshire law firms the connection is clear.
Over several years the region has undergone a renaissance in terms of professional services; advisers ranging from management consultants and financial advisers through to law firms are benefiting from this shift.
The White Rose firms from Yorkshire are already heavily involved with companies across the US and in 2008, the year of the Rat in China, it is expected that more focus will be given to the Far East.
Integrated and international are the two factors defining the current direction of the legal market in Yorkshire. Clients are looking for a full-service option and the ability to work across a number of jurisdictions, as global business continues to increase and companies look for a value-driven solution.
Activity was high last year, but the level of activity and number of deals in 2007 has already outstripped those of 2006. The signs are that 2008 will be just as good.
Yorkshire continues to be boosted by the very high level of public sector outsourcing work for local authorities, education and the National Health Service (NHS). Significant public private partnerships (PPPs) and private finance initiatives, covering areas from regeneration through to waste contracts, have provided a consistent stream of work, although it is likely that the comprehensive spending review will change the direction and levels of investment.
The high visibility problem of Northern Rock has not been representative of the region as a whole. The credit crunch has been a concern to the corporate sector, but deals have still been going through and tend to be realistically leveraged for the size of the transactions and of the companies involved. The growing corporate sector and the increasing reputation and specific market sector expertise of regional advisers has created a stable and proactive investment market.
International work has become a significant business stream for Yorkshire lawyers. The trend for convergence continues with international companies looking to work with one full-service provider across a number of jurisdictions. The emphasis on China and Japan and the recognition in the region that advisers need to be able to provide efficient and effective cross-border solutions is growing in importance.
Recent research by Eversheds has identified that Yorkshire companies are interested in a range of markets, but the strength of the British pound and Euro against the US dollar means that companies which are importing from, or that are making acquisitions or takeovers in the US are doing extremely well at the moment.
The research showed 70 per cent of companies in the North are looking to start or expand their overseas activity. Of those companies targeting overseas markets, 99 per cent were targeting Europe; 77 per cent Asia and the Far East; 70 per cent America.
Europe is still a very important market for Yorkshire firms, but it is significant that many companies still consider the US to be their key target even with the regulatory environment created by Sarbanes Oxley and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).
The private sector has matched the public sector in many ways, showing a consistent level of work and a very proactive approach to the markets. The region benefits from many progressive businesses, which either are looking to acquire and expand or have become so attractive that a good exit is achievable. Even in the current climate of macro economic uncertainty, there is still a groundswell of business success that will continue to prosper.
Stephen Hopkins is a senior partner at Eversheds Leeds office