March 03, 2018

The Northern Powerhouse Struggle

As a result of significant investment and urban regeneration in the last 20 years, has Manchester overtaken Leeds to become the north’s biggest legal hub?

Of particular note are Spinningfields and Media City (based on the banks of Manchester Ship Canal).

Spinningfields is probably one of Europe’s most successful urban regeneration projects which has created an entirely new quarter in the city. It is home to an affluent business and resident community, and as the centre of Manchester’s corporate community it provides a vibrant destination for shopping, eating out and socialising.

Media City is home to notable corporations such as BBC, ITV (housing the newly built set for Coronation Street), Ericsson and Kelloggs as well as a host of other digital and creative businesses, all which are instrumental in attracting new and sustainable revenue streams to the city.

This will undoubtedly continue with yet more redevelopment planned if HS2 goes ahead at Piccadilly and of course the £1 billion supersized transformation to Manchester Airport.

The city has enjoyed more foreign investment than any other outside of London leading to the establishment of many global brands.

The wave of expansion has continued with several large corporations evaluating the need to be based in the capital and north shoring certain functions of their businesses to Manchester.

Business is booming in Manchester evident by the number of cranes in the skyline. As a result the Manchester legal market is more buoyant than ever as evidenced by the success of new entrants to the market. The city has attracted a number of international and city law firms namely CMS, Freshfields, Clyde and Co, and Berwin Leighton Paisner, national firms whose traditional base has been in the Midlands eg Freeths, Gateley PLC, Shoosmiths and Mills and Reeve, as well as The Big Four accountancy firms, all jostling with the traditional Manchester firms (established pre 2007) to capitalise on the commercial activity in the market.

The advent of these firms has meant that ambitious young lawyers no longer need to head to the metropolis of London in search of high quality work. They can swap the long and crowded commutes to live closer to their place of work and even though the hours are still arduous, Manchester lawyers do find more time to socialise and network. As well as being home to one of the largest and interactive Law Societies in the country, there is in addition a burgeoning young professional scene in the city with groups such as Manchester Trainee Solicitor Group, Manchester Young Solicitor Group and the multi-disciplined Manchester Young Professional Group, all of whom organise frequent events and opportunities to engage with fellow professionals.

The legal marketplace has never been so complex and competitive in attracting the best legal talent.

Leeds, on the other hand, post the 2007 global recession could have been seen as being more reticent having surrendered their legal supremacy gained throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Or so it would appear. The city underwent significant city centre and urban regeneration from the late 80’s, effectively 10 years before Manchester. Considerable investment was made not only in the city centre but along the banks of the River Aire with a particular emphasis placed on city living. This combined with the introduction of superfast rail links to London, helped to attract a pool of legal talent from London and other major UK cities, to what was traditionally known as the Big Six. These firms had already gained national and international status with many of the main executive board/senior partners being based in Leeds.

As these firms metamorphised, senior and experienced lawyers uncomfortable with the lack of autonomy moved themselves and in some cases their teams to the Mid-Tier firms, which allowed healthy competition to flourish.

In more recent years the programme of transforming the city centre has continued with the development of Trinity and the award-winning Victoria Gate as prestigious shopping destinations. The planned mixed redevelopment of the south bank will effectively double the size of Leeds city centre, leading to yet more commercial activity and growth within the Legal market.

Notwithstanding, post 2007 has seen the Americans merge with Hammonds (Yorkshire firm with a long tradition), to become Squire Patton Boggs and the better known traditional Yorkshire law firms such as Lupton Fawcett and Hlw Keeble Hawson and Schofield Sweeney expand their business base throughout Yorkshire. Start up’s have included Gateley plc, Freeths, Shoosmiths and Mills and Reeve who continue to challenge the traditional Leeds firms by attracting talent and alongside that, clients.

Certainly Leeds is not home to as many lawyers as Manchester but as the saying goes, it isn’t about quantity but about quality. However it would seem that there is considerable scope for yet more growth and therefore the war on talent will intensify not only between the firms in Leeds but versus their neighbours across the Pennines.

In a bid to promote Leeds as a centre of legal excellence in Europe, new research commissioned by the Leeds Law Society and Leeds City Council was published and presented at the inaugural Leeds Conference last June 2017 of which Bygott Biggs were co – sponsors. The report asserts that Leeds has in actual fact seen the fastest growth of any major legal centre in the UK this decade surpassing the City of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol with economic output of Leeds’ Law firms expected to exceed £300million.

The event, designed to promote the city’s legal sector to international business and talent, was a fantastic opportunity for the attending audience of over 200 legal professionals to feel a lot better about themselves and the city and to understand the scale, importance and variety of commercial activity going on in Leeds, and the legal opportunities underpinning that activity.

The findings of the report were: Leeds lawyers offer the same range of services as their peers in London, but without the eye -watering fees

Strong competition exists within nearly every specialism, providing top end market conditions for buyers of legal services Law firms are delivering world class legal advice and services for clients in Africa, the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

The city region is home to the largest financial and professional services community in England outside the capital, making it easier for firms to grow and win work. It is ideally placed for middle and back office operations, with a large and growing community of talent, innovative and collaborative tech businesses and legal tech specialists.

In conclusion, both cities have a lot to offer lawyers at all levels who wish to work in the North and maintain a healthy work/life balance. Picking which one may depend purely on the role on offer and on personal choice.

Nottingham. Birmingham. Manchester. Leeds.

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