Regional Focus: Leeds
5 June 2008
When talking to Leeds lawyers, the one word you will hear over and over again is vibrant. Leeds lawyers are proud of their city and they appear to have several reasons to be. Leeds has changed beyond belief, says the head of DLA Pipers Leeds office Neil McLean. It used to be the city of the dark satanic mills and heavy industry, which has transformed itself into a very big commercial, service and IT centre, yet still with a very good breadth of light and heavy industry.
Many household names such as Asda, which is a Yorkshire company through and through, as well as BT, British Gas, several major banks, building societies and large property developers have a major presence in Leeds.
Local lawyers argue that Leeds is the most attractive legal market in the north and is the UKs second legal city after London. Although some, such as Mancunians, might disagree with that verdict, Leeds does boast a large number of national firms, some powerful local players and, according to Eversheds Leeds senior partner Keith Froud, the largest number of lawyers of any UK city outside of London.
LEEDS’ BEST: VITAL STATS
Leeds partners: 50
Leeds trainees: 27
Leeds salaries: first year 24,750; second
year 27,500; NQ 40,000
Leeds partners: 14
Leeds trainees: 10
Leeds salaries: first year 20,000; second
year 21,000; NQ 30,000
Leeds partners: 28
Leeds trainees: 12
Leeds salaries: first year 23,000; second
year 26,000; NQ 37,000
Leeds partners: 42
Leeds trainees: 14
Leeds salaries: first year 25,000; second
year 28,000; NQ 41,000
Leeds partners: 41
Leeds trainees: 23
Leeds salaries: first year 24,500; second
year 26,500; NQ 39,000
Leeds partners: 35
Leeds trainees: 18
Leeds salaries: first year 25,000; second
year 27,000; NQ 40,000
Leeds partners: 17
Leeds trainees: 8
Leeds salaries: first year 21,000; second
year 23,000; NQ 31,000 - 38,000
Bristol partners: 31
Bristol trainees: 6
Bristol salaries: first year 20,000;
second year 21,500; NQ 30,000 -
Leeds partners: 54
Leeds trainees: 27
Leeds salaries: first year 26,000; second
year 28,000; NQ 40,000 plus up to
Bristol partners: 52
Bristol trainees: 35
Bristol salaries: first year 26,000; second
year 28,000; NQ 40,000
Most trainees are attracted to Leeds because of some connection to the city or region, such as having grown up or studied there. Some simply fall in love after going there for a visit and decide to ditch the London rat-race, looking for more beautiful countryside in the regions, a higher quality of life or a better work-life balance.
But be warned: working at a large Leeds firm does not necessarily mean youll be swanning out of the office at half-past five every evening the hours in transactional departments at large firms can be comparable to the City.
Luckily the compensation for your toils is enough for a comfortable lifestyle the costs of living in Leeds are relatively low compared to London (though relatively high for Yorkshire). First year trainee salaries hover between 20,000 and 26,000 at the bigger firms and newly qualified salaries can hike up to between 30,000 and 41,000 (see box, right).
Another draw is clearly the social life and apart from the usual plethora of quality shops, restaurants, bars and clubs to suit most tastes, the Leeds legal scene boasts a particularly active and tightly-knit trainee social scene. Regular inter-firm football, netball, softball and cricket leagues and tournaments take place, and the Leeds Young Solicitors Group (YSG) and the Leeds Trainee Solicitors Group (TSG) are a social focal point for young lawyers in Leeds.
Most large firms sponsor trainees membership of the Leeds TSG and many smaller firms get involved through the small firm representative on the TSG committee. The TSG also hosts up to 15 careers events, balls and parties a year and Leeds trainees are sure to get stuck in: the last event was attended by around 300 people.
The top of the Leeds legal market is generally said to consist of the big six: Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Hammonds, Pinsent Masons and Walker Morris. Five of these firms are major national players and in the cases of DLA and Eversheds true global powerhouses.
Walker Morris is the odd one out and the only firm in the big six that is a purebred Leeds beast, but its attitude is unlikely to change considering the success of its strategy so far Walker Morris partners take home some of the biggest pay-packets in the region.
The atmosphere at the firm is pleasant but, as is to be expected at firms with tidy profits, the hours in some departments can be long. Trainee salaries at the firm are at the high end of the spectrum for Leeds (see box, right) and you can expect to get a good mix of work for a range of large local, regional and even national clients, as well as the chance to cut your teeth by leading smaller, local transactions. Walker Morris is on the panel for several banks and has high-powered corporate and finance departments, as well as a full-service complement of others.
The regional firms, however, have many of these draws and then some others.
Like many of its national rivals, Addleshaws is the product of mergers. The firm is particularly well respected for its excellent mid-market real estate and domestic projects practices.
Although they have similar roots to Addleshaws, DLA and Eversheds have managed to transform themselves through a series of bigger mergers into true global contenders, with offices in 25 and 23 countries respectively. The expansion of DLA and Eversheds has been staggering and with turnovers of 446m and 356m respectively they appear to be gunning for the top of The Lawyers league tables.
But both firms are adamant that the Leeds office is not just a satellite to London and the rest of the world, only receiving instructions from other offices because of their lower charge-outa rates. DLAs McLean insists: We dont get sent loads of junk that nobody else wants to do. He says that the quality of work is high and often includes cutting-edge international transactions.
In contrast to the two international giants, Hammonds has weathered several difficult years but has been finding its way back to its stable mid-market roots. Hammonds started as a small Bradford outfit but rapidly some would say too rapidly turned into an international partnership of more than 180 partners, with offices in Birmingham, London, Manchester and seven other countries, although Leeds still remains very much the strong beating heart of the firm. Hammonds offers a full-service with a focus on corporate and property work, with several big-name clients. Opportunities for overseas and regional secondments exist.
Pinsents is another one of Leeds bigger hitters and is well respected regionally, despite some tumultuous years spent absorbing a number of mergers, most recently with London firm Masons in 2004. The bulk of the firms turnover comes from corporate and construction work, though several other areas such as IP, technology, telecoms and media are also growing. Around 10 per cent of the firms trainees go on secondment.
But the big six do not offer the only opportunities in Leeds. If you are into litigation and personal injury (PI) work, for example, Irwin Mitchell is probably the place for you it has one of the best national practices in PI and trainees get to move between the widely scattered UK offices during their training contract.
Cobbetts does a large amount of property work, as well as some corporate work, and has offices in Manchester, Birmingham and a small outpost in London. Lupton Fawcett lives in Leeds only but has made its home a strong one, with particular strength in property, employment work and private client areas.
And Clarion, while one of the slightly smaller corporate/ commercial Leeds-based practices, still offers a good range of practice areas and a friendly atmosphere.
Indeed, Leeds offers something for legal appetites of all sizes and shapes, with more firms than you can shake a training contract at Google is your friend here. And if all the job hunting gets a bit much, just visit Leeds and stroll the streets: you will be likely to bump into a trainee to ask for friendly advice.
LEEDS FACT FILE
The City of Leeds metropolitan district has a population of around a quarter of a million people and almost 100,000 of those are students.
Nevertheless it is possible to escape the students (though some trainees are drawn towards Headingley where they relive their younger days with nostalgic nights out in cheesy, sweaty clubs).
Leeds also has a great concentration of old-man pubs, with many good ones tucked away in back alleys there is The Angel for example: dirty, dirt-cheap and brilliant, hidden just off Briggate, which is one of Leeds major pedestrianised shopping arteries.
For those who can not wait to blow all their disposable trainee salaries on more luxurious goods from such fine establishments such as Prada, Hugo Boss, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood, there is also the massive but charming Victoria Quarter, the selfstyled Knightsbridge of the North. For those who want to hang around with some teenage Goths and despair over a can of cider and cigarette, your best bet is to head to the Victorian Corn Exchange, which is one of Leeds most prized architectural marvels. Until recently this was home to a quirky and strange assortment of independent shops but it is now to be regenerated into a gigantic food emporium. Local residents (and Goths) are not amused and are petitioning against the plans. But regeneration is not all bad parts of the Leeds Waterfront were recently completely redone and are now dotted with stylish bars, clubs and restaurants. It is a great place for evening strolls, watching the sun dip into the canal.
Particularly recommended in that area comes Caf?uru on Brewery Place, which is probably the closest youll ever get to eating mouth-watering Indian food in a space that feels like a giant iPod - lush.
Finally, if you choose to settle down and buy your own home in Leeds, it does not have to cost the earth: the average price of a flat is around 150,000 in Leeds, only half the average price of a flat in Greater London and just a tad cheaper than Manchester, though around 10 per cent more than Newcastle.