19 September 1995
'London legal market crashes as North West takes over'. OK, not really. But do you remember the 1980's TV advert for cross-channel ferries, voice-over by Kenneth Williams, where one family is seen motoring happily along the empty, scenic M62 towards a waiting ferry in Hull, contrasted with a group of bickering South Easterners stuck in an horrendous traffic jam outside Dover? Such is the perceived difference in quality of life by lawyers in the North West.
Quality of work
City lawyers would argue that aside from the trivialities of lifestyle - the stress of the rush hour and being stuck in a tunnel outside King's Cross because of points failure - it's the calibre of work that sets London apart. Surely the provinces can't provide the same quality of work as the City?
Feathers were ruffled by a recent article in the legal press which suggested the current
excellent health enjoyed by the North West legal marketplace was largely attributable to those City lawyers who have moved north in recent years.
Bigger fish, smaller pond
Professional recruiters in the region have probably noted a tendency for London-trained solicitors to head north at certain points in their career. The fact is that there are many sensible reasons for investing one's future in the legal community of the North West.
Upward movement is generally achieved quicker within firms in the region, where smaller, more receptive partnerships promote according to merit, and not the 'jobs for the boys' contacts network.
North West salaries also compare well. A newly-qualified solicitor can expect to earn between £16,000-£18,000 in a general practice, £18,000-£21,000 in a small commercial firm and in a large commercial firm between £20,000-£23,000. By the third year of post-qualification, they can expect (in the same categories) £20,000-£22,000, £24,000-£26,000 and £26,000-£35,000. And after six years the solicitor should be earning £24,000-plus in general practice, £28,000-£40,000 in a small commercial firm and £30,000-minimum in a large commercial firm.
In addition, after two years' post-qualification experience, the top solicitors at each level are being paid a premium, as are solicitors with experience in specialist areas such as corporate tax, intellectual property, pensions, corporate or banking.
Client contact is encouraged at an early stage of a fee earner's career and, in line with the competitive spirit of the region, entrepreneurial skills are more a prerequisite than an attribute.
Clients from all over Europe have quickly cottoned on to the advantages of instructing lawyers who are as specialised and business-like as those in the City, but are cheaper and more approachable.
As for commercial activity in the North West, the list of major and international name firms is exhaustive and covers all sectors of work.
With a burgeoning international airport as well as an efficient local transport network, accessibility and communications also pull in the crowds.
Standard of living is a factor which has long since prevented professionals from all walks of life leaving the region. And the drift from London is likely to become a stampede once the secrets of the region are publicised by the new arrivals from The Smoke: proximity to the countryside; excellent theatre, cinema and arts; and top sports facilities. We now field daily enquiries from City lawyers, many of whose CVs include remarkably similar interests.
The point is that all this is available close to the offices. Take note all you weekend City to Dorset commuters.
Movement to the North West is also fuelled to some extent by the prodigal son concept. City firms are chock full of north westerners who, having tired of tube strikes, pollution and flat-sharing, will often return when the opportunity arises.
As they say in the adverts, book early.