The North West region has seen significant growth in recent years after taking a bruising during the recession. But pressure on costs is driving an increase in in-house and non-qualified fee-earner roles.
Hannah Reeves, head of recruitment at Robert Walters Legal in Manchester, says: “The in-house market is generating an increasing number of tempting alternative career options for practice lawyers, particularly household name companies in growth sectors such as retail and financial services.
“In private practice, the general theme of cost control is driving demand for non-qualified fee-earners, junior lawyers from the newly qualified level to four years’ PQE, and partners with a strong client following.”
This view is seconded by managing director of Michael Page Legal David Forsdyke, who says: “Junior solicitors with two to four years’ PQE are in the highest demand.”
Despite these pressures, things are picking up in the region, with Manchester in particular seeing a boom in activity and several firms opening new offices in the region. TLT launched in Manchester in July, while Slater & Gordon stormed into Liverpool in August after a tie-up with personal injury firm Goodmans. Hill Dickinson also took on 16 new recruits in Manchester in October.
According to Reeves, a “perfect storm” of factors means the North West legal market is generating more work than it has for many years. Consolidation in mid-tier private practice and new market entrants have meant the creation of legal jobs in the area. Several large UK firms have opened offices in the north in recent months.
According to Reeves, new market entrants are enticed by “strong local growth, especially in the retail and financial services sectors.
“These are often existing firms operating in other areas of the UK moving in to capitalise on the thriving Manchester market.”
“Recruitment at most firms has been a lot healthier of late,” Forsdyke says, “but recruitment activity is strongest at top and mid-tier firms such as such as Eversheds and DWF.”
Reeves agrees that firms with broad UK bases are eagerly adding to their headcount in the North West, but says smaller firms are feeling less generous.
“High street firms are being more cautious as the effects of recent changes to legal aid funding become clear,” she says.
The practice areas witnessing the biggest growth in the North West region are property, corporate and banking, with transactional, business-led areas leading demand.
“The long-anticipated improvement in the transaction-led market is also driving opportunities for lawyers,”
Forsdyke adds: “We’re finding that the commercial sector is picking up and there’s been an increase in demand for corporate, banking and real estate lawyers.”
For those lawyers happy to don a raincoat and keen on a strong cuppa it looks like heading north could be a lucrative plan.