Regional focus Leeds
28 May 2012 | Updated: 29 May 2012 4:17 pm | By Christian Metcalfe
31 January 2013
12 October 2011
The UK200 2011
1 July 2011
5 June 2008
As the largest city in God’s own county, Leeds is at the heart of Yorkshire’s great industrial and cultural heritage. It is perhaps more surprising to hear that it is also the ancestral home of many of the UK’s national and international law firms.
There are now around 180 law firms based in the city, from global practices employing hundreds of legal professionals to small practices specialising in niche areas of law, employing more than 8,000 people.
That figure is growing as, during the past 12 months alone, Leeds has seen Dickinson Dees relocate from York to a 17,000 sq ft office in the city, Gateley arrive following its launch in Manchester, and healthcare specialist Capsticks opening in August 2011.
This has brought with it high-profile partner moves, with Mark Owen of Pinsents Masons and David Cunningham of Eversheds leaving for Dickinson Dees, William Ballmann and Rob Payne of Cobbetts going to Gateley, and Lisa George of Eversheds joining Capsticks.
The top of the legal market table in Leeds consist of the ‘big six’ firms: Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Squire Sanders and Walker Morris. Although with growth at Irwin Mitchell and the merger of Davies Arnold Cooper and Beachcroft to create DAC Beachcroft in November 2011, it would be fair to say that it is now the ‘big eight’.
Following DLA Piper’s merger with Australian firm DLA Phillips Fox in May 2011 and the imminent return of former Europe, Middle East and Africa head of corporate Alastair da Costa after more than four years at the helm in Hong Kong, the firm looks set to maintain its dominance in Leeds.
In other merger news affecting the Leeds market, Pinsents’ tie-up with Scotland-based McGrigors has created a £282m turnover firm, while DWF and Cobbetts, which both have offices in Leeds, called off their own merger discussions in January, blaming “uncertain market conditions”.
However, growth and innovation are not confined only to the big firms, with Gordons taking on five school-leavers as part of a new legal apprenticeship scheme while also delivering magic circle-level remuneration for its equity partners.
Laura Betchette has been an apprentice at Gordons for seven months and is currently working in the commercial property team in the Leeds office.
“I heard that a lot of law students can’t get jobs in law as it’s such a tough environment,” Betchette says. “To find while still at school something like this – with a job at the end of it, training and getting paid – was out of this world.”
On the international stage too, smaller firms are holding their own – rapidly expanding litigation boutique Stewarts Law has announced that it is launching a US practice, with offices in New York and Delaware.
In March, Leeds received a delegation of Mexican lawyers as part of a multi-sector business and academic mission aimed at promoting trade and investment between Mexico and the UK. Leeds was the only city to be visited outside of London.
Leeds has also secured e350,000 (£285,531) in funding from the European Commission to support a unique legal exchange programme with Barcelona.
Having a large number of jobs in financial services (HBOS and RBS both employ people in Leeds) meant that the recession could have had a crushing effect on Leeds. In fact, the city has weathered the storm better than most.
“The Leeds economy was affected nowhere near as badly as others … probably because it’s so close knit and businesses are working with each other,” says Pinsents trainee Calvin Ching.
Indeed, breaks in the clouds can be seen across the skyline of Leeds, as it continues to attract investment and funding. For example, it recently benefited from around £60m in regional growth funding from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund.
According to Drivers Jonas Deloitte’s latest Leeds Crane Survey, seven office schemes started on site in Leeds during 2011, the highest level seen for two years, while developments such as Land Securities’ 1m sq ft retail and leisure development Trinity Leeds, which is now 66 per cent pre-let ahead of its opening in spring 2013, continue to attract new and diverse businesses to the city.
In terms of regeneration for former industrial areas, last June the Government announced that the 3,200 acre Aire Valley on the edge of the city centre would become an enterprise zone.
Leeds v London
Leeds is an exciting place to live and work, but how does it compare with London? A good sign of the city’s competitiveness is that many of the 2,500 undergraduate and postgraduate law students who graduate annually from Leeds’ three legal educational institutions (University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University and BPP Law School), remain in the city, while a portfolio of world-class clients including Asda, American Express, Barclays Bank, British Nuclear Fuels, Hitachi Capital, KPMG, National Australia Group, Tesco and Youngs Seafood, are all key clients in Leeds.
“You still get the quality of work in Leeds and exposure to clients,” says Pinsents trainee Louise Norbury. “In London you’d be a small fish in a big pond, but in a regional firm you can get far more involved and get more out of it.”
Greater responsibility is a draw for trainees, with Ching recently leading contractual negotiations with American Express.
“My supervisor was there but he tended to just chip in,” he recalls. “It gave me a good sense of achievement and it’s a steady increase in responsibility. In a recent mediation I was working 13-hour days, which are long days but it was worth it as we got a really good settlement. I wasn’t just sitting in: I was also talking to the client and I helped draft the agreement at the end. It was one of those movie moments where the deal was signed at 7pm when the client had to be at the airport by 7.05pm.”
“You get a lot of time with partners here,” adds Walker Morris trainee Oliver Duke. “They really take the time to make sure you understand. That’s invaluable as a training experience. If I compare that experience with that of friends working at London firms, I think I’m involved in a lot more at junior level. I think that’s great.”
And what about the much-lauded work-life balance when working outside London?
“In terms of work-life balance, the perception is that it’s going to be better in the regions than in London,” says DLA Piper trainee Hugh Morgan, who decided on Leeds after studying Classical Civilization at Leeds University.
“But everyone in law will end up doing long hours and everyone appreciates that. It depends on the seat but they’re not horrendous hours. Some days you have to work later, but when you’re doing long hours you’re very busy; you’re not in the office being bored.”
But while the hours may still be long there is more to work-life balance than that. Fellow DLA Piper trainee Liam McAllister was “born and bred” just four miles outside the city centre – he can even see his home from the firm’s offices. He says “the accessibility of the city” is a big plus.
“When I’m visiting friends in London it can take an hour to get from one place to another. That’s like me going to Sheffield in terms of travel time. Trainees here in Leeds can connect up and it’s not a problem,” says McAllister.
“The city centre is so compact you can deliver things by hand if it’s urgent rather than using couriers,” adds Norbury. “All the big law firms are only five minutes’ walk from each other. It’s far easier than doing conference calls.”
The size and closeness of teams working in Leeds is another important factor as seat allocation for trainees in London can be stressful.
“At Walker Morris we have more than 20 trainees, which is quite a high number for Leeds,” says Duke. “But in London firms there can be hundreds of trainees and you probably have less say about where you want to go.”
The sense of community is palpable, with all the trainees mentioning the Junior Lawyers Division as being very active in Leeds, with many networking and social events happening throughout the year. But it is not just other lawyers that are close by.
“Professional 100, which organises events for accountants, trainee lawyers, NQs and junior bankers and so on, brings all the professional services together and is a good way of starting networking at a junior level,” explains Duke. “You often bump into familiar faces.
It’s great networking and building up a career presence. It’s 15 minutes max to meet up and chat.”
“The best thing about working in Leeds is the close professional networks you can build up,” agrees Gordons trainee Laura Foley.
The short travel times and the closeness of the city to the surrounding countryside also allows more time for extra-curricular activities. For example, Norbury, who was a musical director of a theatre company at university, has kept up that interest at Pinsents. “I’m happy to be able to still do that,” he says. “I’m able to do things outside work without compromising my quality of work.”
“In the city centre you’ve got all the bars and restaurants, but 20 minutes away you’re in the Dales,” says Duke. “You also have the Lake District close by. If that’s something you enjoy, then it’s a good attraction.”
The legal market in Leeds also looks buoyant. According to Ching: “The NQ jobs list is looking really healthy at pretty much all the firms.”
“Leeds has always been a strong city for law and because of that people shout about it less,” says Duke. “The market seems to be very busy at the moment; the deal activity has been fantastic. And it isn’t just us. If you look at the headcount for firms’ offices, for a lot of firms Leeds is the second-biggest office. There’s a reason for that.”
Leeds firms’ vital statistics
Total number of fee-earners in Leeds: 205
Leeds trainees: 20
First-year salary: £25,000
Second-year salary: £27,000
NQ salary: £38,000
Total number of lawyers in Leeds: 25
Leeds trainees: 8
First-year salary: £23,460 (2011)
Second-year salary: £25,500 (2011)
NQ salary: £31,000 (2011)
Total number of lawyers in Leeds: 116
Leeds trainees: 6
First-year salary: £26,000
Second-year salary: £29,000
NQ salary: £36,000
Total number of lawyers in Leeds: 163
Leeds trainees: 23
First-year salary: £25,000 (2011)
Second-year salary: £27,000 (2011)
NQ salary: £37,000 (2011)
Total number of lawyers: 1,832 (firmwide)
Leeds trainees: 14
First-year salary: £25,000
Second-year salary: £26,500
NQ salary: £37,000
Total number of lawyers in Leeds: 157
Leeds trainees: 23
First-year salary: £26,000 (2011)
Second-year salary: £28,000 (2011)
NQ salary: £38,000 (2011)
Total number of lawyers in Leeds: 18
Leeds trainees: 2
First-year salary: n/a
Second-year salary: n/a
NQ salary: n/a
Total number of lawyers in Leeds: 72
Leeds trainees: 13
First-year salary: £23,500
Second-year salary: £26,000
NQ salary: £37,000
Total number of lawyers in Leeds: 166
Leeds trainees: 35
First-year salary: £24,000
Second-year salary: £26,000
NQ salary: £36,000
All figures correct at the time of writing
THE LAWYER UK 200 TOP LEEDS FIRMS
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