According to estate agents, the three most important factors when considering a move are location, location, location.
For London law firms, being in the square mile of the City is close to their client-base and is convenient and prestigious.
In Birmingham, the City equivalent is Colmore Row, which has been dubbed anything from the 'square inch' to the 'square quarter mile' and is still regarded as the commercial centre.
National firm Eversheds is awaiting completion of the building at 115 Colmore Row, where it will occupy the whole 80,000 square feet in summer 1999. The presence of many other top law firms in the city means “it is important to be seen to be staying in the centre,” says an Eversheds spokeswoman.
But in the other regions, there have been moves to widen what has traditionally been considered the top city address.
In Manchester, a number of professional firms plan to move in to a new development, Great Bridgewater, next year which is just outside the main business centre, effectively expanding the commercial district.
Addleshaw Sons & Latham and accountants Ernst & Young will occupy the main part of one building, while Dibb Lupton Broomhead is moving into the other building with and Price Waterhouse. One lawyer says it is not a move in response to Garrett & Co and Arnheim & Co: “We already work with accountants or fellow professionals – being neighbours as well as colleagues is coincidental.”
Addleshaws partner David Tully says the move has been necessitated “partly because of the growth within the firm, and also because it is necessary to be in what will be the best building in Manchester in some time. It is an exciting development and move and is a sign of confidence in the city.”
Dibbs senior partner Robin Smith agrees the need for more space, especially “top quality space”, has prompted the move.
One firm which has moved further afield is Northampton-based Shoosmiths & Harrison. Earlier this year it moved most of its operations to a new business park at The Lakes, just outside the town centre. But it still retains a presence in the centre of Northampton for its head office and for future growth.
In the early 1990s, Shoosmiths' Southampton office moved to a business park in Fareham. Corporate partner Sally Norcross-Webb cites the peaceful working environment as one of the main advantages for the move. And although out-of-city offices are not necessarily cheaper in terms of rent, she says such moves are not surprising as they allow firms to provide a cost-conscious and high quality service.
But there is still room for manoeuvre in city centres. In the City of London, for example, there are a number of firms looking to consolidate as a result of organic growth or mergers.
Linklaters & Paines will be moving to Milton House and Shire House next year to take up over 300,000 square feet. And Lovell White Durrant has instructed property adviser DTZ Debenham Thorpe to “explore options and investigate the market” for the firm's possible move in 1999-2000.
Nabarro Nathanson is also rumoured to be on the lookout for new premises. The firm's lease on the 140,000 square feet at Stratton Street expires in 1999 and it has instructed DEGW and Interiors to look at its working practices and how much space is needed.
Neal Scambler, a partner with surveyors Jones Lang Wootton's City agency, says: “Unlike banks, lawyers are more cautious in where they relocate, and prefer to play safe by staying close to their client base.” Despite a rise in rents, he adds, “the majority are not willing to compromise on location”.