Job Watch: South West/Bristol

As trainees and newly qualified associates alike face increasingly stiff competition in the City, there are many good reasons for young lawyers to look further west.

While the South West legal market not been immune from the tough economic climate, according to Tom Pogmore, manager of regional legal recruitment at Robert Walters, there is still much to be positive about. “While the area has not seen major growth in recruitment, firms are still looking to replace people who move roles and, as the market improves, we expect this to lead to the creation of new and more opportunities as 2012 progresses.”

Andrew Kelly, manager of the South West region at Chadwick Nott, says firms have taken varying approaches to recruitment. “It’s clear that some have been bullish about the strategy of adding to their talent pools,” he says, “whereas others have felt less confident in workflows and less able to justify a spend.”

Sector strengths are a key factor influencing recruitment trends, notes Kelly, adding that “firms with a particular focus on insurance work or other buoyant areas such as financial services have continued to bolster their presences in this area.”

He says new areas of growth include professional negligence, IP/IT, bank litigation and pensions work, while “more traditional practice areas such as private client have continued to grow steadily and the growing confidence in the property and housing market has led to recent new demand for residential property lawyers.”

There are many misconceptions surrounding recruitment in the South West. As Kirstie Robertson, recruitment manager at Burges Salmon, highlights, people do not choose firms in this area simply to have an easy life. “While there are certainly excellent lifestyle benefits,” she says, “most candidates are attracted by our award-winning client work and commitment to a collaborative working culture.”

Pogmore says relocating to a South West firm can be more suited to “those already firmly established in their careers who can afford what can be an associated drop in salary”, but adds that “the gap in pay between the large firms in the area and London isn’t as significant as
it once was.”

Nor is Bristol the only place to be in the South West, adds Pogmore, stressing that “while Bristol has the big players, such as Burges Salmon, Osborne Clarke, DAC Beachcroft, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and TLT, the likes of Ashfords, Bond Pearce, Charles Russell and Foot Anstey are spread over the region’s other major cities, such as Exeter, Plymouth, Taunton and Chelten-ham. So people are inclined to consider other cities outside Bristol to explore other opportunities without having to sacrifice the quality of work or firm.”

It may indeed be even more advantageous for partners or mid-level associates to consider other key locations in the South West, comments Kelly. “Interestingly, experienced lawyers in large regional firms in Bristol are increasingly moving out to firms in the likes of Somerset and Devon to secure or increase their prospects of securing partnership,” he says.