Leeds Big Six lawyer numbers slump as city’s legal market reinvents itself

Lawyer and partner numbers among Leeds’ ‘Big Six’ law firms – Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Squire Patton Boggs and Walker Morris – have dropped in the past five years, The Lawyer can reveal.

Research carried out for this week’s lead feature shows that total staff numbers employed by the six firms in Leeds have dropped markedly since 2009. 

Addleshaws’ total staff count in Leeds has reduced by 14 per cent, Eversheds’ by 31.2 per cent, Pinsents’ by 12.9 per cent, and Squire Patton Boggs’ by 3.6 per cent. Walker Morris’s staff numbers have dropped by 8 per cent, largely as a result of the firm’s decision to close its personal injury department. DLA Piper will not provide a breakdown of headcount for Leeds.

Only Addleshaws and Walker Morris have increased their total lawyer headcounts since 2009. Addleshaws added a net total of 17 lawyers, an increase of 8.9 per cent, while Walker Morris added 20, a rise of 12.4 per cent.

Squire Patton Boggs, which started its UK life as Leeds-headquartered Hammonds before the mergers with Squire Sanders & Dempsey (25 August 2010) and more recently Patton Boggs (27 May 2014), has held lawyer numbers steady at 104 over the past five years. But the number of lawyers working at Eversheds in Leeds dropped by 12 per cent, with a decrease of 15.2 per cent at Pinsents.

All five firms for which data was provided reported fewer partners in 2014 than in 200, meaning partner-to-associate ratios have risen in the last five years.

Despite the drop in numbers, firms maintain they are committed to Leeds, which is the second-largest UK legal market outside London.

Although it has not attracted the type of investment by City firms setting up low-cost centres that other parts of the UK have (16 June 2014) several of the Big Six use Leeds as a hub for support services. For example, DLA Piper’s UK IT support team is based in Leeds, and Leeds is the European support services hub for Squire Patton Boggs.

The drop in staff numbers has followed a tough time for the city economically, with several Yorkshire firms reporting only marginal turnover rises in the past few years. In 2013/14, Walker Morris has seen a 1 per cent rise in turnover to £42.5m and Lupton Fawcett Denison Till a 20 per cent increase to £15.7m, up from £13m in 2012/13 as a result of the mid-year merger between Leeds’ Lupton Fawcett Lee & Priestley and York’s Denison Till (3 July 2013).

But turnover has dropped for fellow Yorkshire firms HLW Keeble Hawson, down 1.4 per cent from £16.4m to £16.1m in 2013/14, and Clarion, with revenues dipping 3.8 per cent from £7.9m to £7.6m last year.