Once seen as the last move of a retiring partner, the exodus out of the City is now accelerating, fuelled partially by the large regional firms’ perceived resilience to recession. Billing rates and increasing expertise, added to the calibre of lawyers with City backgrounds, maintain and strengthen this position – the pedigree of new arrivals at such firms read like a Who’s Who lifted from The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report.
The regional firms have recognised their own appeal, with regular campaigns to attract such lawyers. Their message is that they are not second best, but a real alternative to London.
Each firm may extol various attractions, but all stress that there will be no compromise about the quality of the work they offer – and the pinch that brings the daydreaming lawyer back to reality is usually a concern about the quality of the work.
Despite these concerns, the path to the regions is increasingly well trodden. Two lawyers who have recently made the move, Simon Kerr-Davis and Stephen Hedley, both now at Cripps Harries Hall and formerly of Linklaters and Berwin Leighton Paisner respectively, explain why they made the decision to leave London behind.
“You just instinctively know when something is right. After nine years as a City lawyer, I had ‘work-life balance’ issues, just like every City lawyer I have ever met. But that would hardly be enough to lead me to Tunbridge Wells, where, as I thought, employment law was something that sole practitioners fitted in between domestic conveyances and golf swings.
“Putting my preconceptions to one side, I considered the ‘pull’ factors: close enough to London for City workers to use my services; near enough to the country for my children to know what a cow looked like; and could it really be true that there was interesting work to be done beyond the M25?
“The work I am doing is not the same, for sure, but employment law is a broad field where the size and wealth of the client bears almost no relation to the complexity or interest of the issues. I have even finally had the opportunity to act for employees – a rare opportunity in most City firms. The breadth of situations I meet is satisfying and the variety of communication skills required is challenging. Oh yes, and the work-life balance isn’t so bad either.”
“Having left the City and spent 12 months travelling, I soon realised that the outside world did not revolve solely around the bright lights of London. After a number of interviews with firms both in the City and across the South, it soon became apparent that the real estate world did not revolve around the City.
“Major real estate companies were choosing to instruct many firms outside London. Would there be sufficient support, particularly from an IT and know-how perspective, to service these clients? I wondered.
I was not disappointed. The IT and know-how support was very impressive. The fact that Cripps Harries Hall has a dedicated real estate support lawyer and comprehensive IT systems speaks volumes.
“The prospect of working for similar clients for which I had acted previously (and in some cases the same client) outside London proved too much of a draw. This, coupled with fresh air and the prospect of a better work-life balance, proved irresistible.”
Jonathan Kay is the divisional manager of Search Legal for London and the South East