Essex is a small market, which looks north to East Anglia, rather than south to Kent or west to London for work.

“I've never been sure whether we're in the South East or East Anglia,” says one local lawyer and many of the firms which are important in the area have practices elsewhere. For example, Birkett Westhorp & Long has offices in Ipswich and Colchester. It also has a strong reputation. For criminal work, Twitchen Mustard & Kelly is well known.

Chelmsford is reputedly the second fastest growing town in Europe, but its local economy has suffered badly from the recent swingeing defence cuts.

Chelmsford's two leading commercial practices are Gepp & Son and Wollastons, two firms with rapidly diverging paths.

Gepp & Sons has suffered in the last couple of years from two major defections. The first, in the summer of 1993, was marked by the loss of five partners, two of whom (Roger Wicks and Gillian Gadsby) set up niche medical negligence practice Gadsby Wicks. Wicks now heads the Law Society's new medical negligence panel.

Hardly had Gepp's recovered from the blow but its newly organised company commercial department – Brian Connolly and Steve Sharratt – left to form another specialist firm: Connolly Sharratt.

The firm is the one small niche company in the region and sees itself gathering more business from the established practices.

Wollastons is making the running in the county, and has recently moved into new offices. It was set up in 1985 as a niche commercial practice and has grown to 18 fee earners. Partner Nicholas Cook says the firm is doing well, with its mix of local and ex-City lawyers.

Southend is home to National Westminster bank's insolvency and debt recovery unit.

The town also houses a self-contained market of small practices.