It is easy to assume that London is the epicentre of the legal universe: no matter where in the country you attend university, law fairs are crammed with top London-based firms espousing the brilliance of their training contracts. And yes, they are brilliant, but top-quality legal work is not exclusive to the capital. Many of the UK’s largest companies and public bodies are located in the regions (see Boxes).
Moreover, legal services in the UK are undergoing a period of change, as even the largest clients are demanding better value for money. This can be delivered outside London, where overheads - the cost of running an office – are cheaper. Phrases such as ‘north-shoring’, i.e., shifting business from the south to the north of the country, are causing quite a stir, not to mention Chancellor George Osborne’s pet project, the Northern Powerhouse. Notably, magic circle firm Freshfields Braukhaus Deringer opened in Manchester last summer, its first UK office outside London.
‘Personally, I never got sucked into the idea that there is only London,’ says Andrew Vernon, a final seat trainee at Addleshaw Goddard in Leeds. ‘I knew what sort of work I wanted to do and I looked at the firms that could offer that quality where I wanted to be, which was Leeds.’ Work undertaken by Andrew in Leeds has included the restructuring of international supply agreements for a major plc.
A story of equals
Doing a vacation placement made Rachael O’Connor, a trainee in the Leeds office at Pinsent Masons, appreciate just how comparable the work is to London: ‘I thought all the big, exciting transactions that you read about in the news were only in London, but after my vacation scheme, I saw that you do that sort of work here at Pinsents in Leeds.’ In her first seat, Rachael was involved in advising one of the firm’s banking clients on the sale of a major shopping centre, personally working on the due diligence with lots of direct contact with the client.
* Source: The Legal 500 - for a comprehensive listing of leading law firms by region go to: www.legal500.com
Leading firms*: Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Squire Patton Boggs and Walker Morris (the Yorkshire ‘big six’)
Key sectors: Finance and business services, retail, leisure, construction, manufacturing and creative and digital industries
Local clients: Asda Group, First Direct, Northern Foods, Yorkshire Bank
Average monthly rent, one-bed flat: City centre: £630; Outside centre: £450
Cost of a pint: £3
Trainee bars: Chaophraya, Revolución de Cuba, Atlas pub, The Botanist, The Alchemist
Best thing about Leeds: ‘the music scene: there is the Leeds/Reading festival but also loads of bands playing in small venues’; ‘there are a lot of food outlets plus beer and food festivals every other weekend’; ‘it’s quite a small city, so everything you need is close by and you can live right in the centre’.
Spotlight on: Squire Patton Boggs
Where? Leeds, Manchester (also: London and Birmingham and 41 overseas offices)
Number of trainees: Total: 47; Leeds: 12; Manchester: 9
Salary (English regions): 1st year: £26k; 2nd year: £28k
Key strengths in Leeds*: Corporate and commercial, tax, commercial litigation, pensions, planning
Clients: Aviva, EDF, RBS, Network Rail, Friends Life.
Squire Patton Boggs final-seat trainee Ciara Petrucci, also in Leeds, highlights the quality of her experience, which included a major constructive dismissal and race discrimination claim, assisting on a large private equity deal in the health sector and a high-profile property litigation dispute where Ciara had to deal with enforcement officers, the police and the press.
‘The London intakes are huge’, she notes, ‘and at some London firms you get discreet tasks but do not get to see the bigger picture. At Squire Patton Boggs in Leeds, you are involved from the start to the finish and you are invested in as a person. In fact, a lot of people who were trainees here have stayed on to become partners.’
One of the advantages of training outside of London is that you are a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Fellow Squire Patton Boggs trainee Charlotte Nickel is based in the firm’s Manchester office. She says: ‘I’m the only trainee in my department and I feel really valued. Everyone knows my name and I really feel a part of the team.’
Rosie Spencer is in her penultimate seat at DWF in Liverpool and prior to her training contract, she was a paralegal at the firm’s Manchester office. ‘The legal community [in Liverpool] is a bit smaller than Manchester, so you are able to find your feet more easily.’ She has enjoyed a great deal of responsibility at the firm: ‘Whilst I was in my regulatory seat, I was instructed to defend a nurse in relation to a gross misconduct allegation which went before the Nursing and Midwifery Council. I was able to do a lot of the work myself, which was great experience and in the end she got a really good result. It was a great feeling to get that phone call to say thank you for everything you have done, especially since I did so much of the work myself.’
Many of the leading firms in the North have grown from being national firms, with offices in London and other UK cities, to international players with multiple offices overseas, such as Addleshaw Goddard, DAC Beachcroft, DLA Piper UK, DWF, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons and Squire Patton Boggs. These firms offer trainees the type of cross-border work that is undertaken in London and possibly an international secondment.
Lauren Cooke studied law with French law and language at the University of Hull and accepted a training contract at DLA Piper in Liverpool because of ‘the international opportunities at the firm, especially because I’d studied French law and spoke the language - and there were the little things: I’d go and hear a talk at the firm and everyone there was so down to earth’. Before starting her training contract, she was sent on an internship to Mauritius, where she worked in the firm’s corporate and commercial department.
Leading firms*: DLA Piper, Brabners, DWF, Hill Dickinson, Weightmans
Key sectors: Manufacturing, creative and digital, financial and professional, life sciences and health
Local clients: John West Foods, Very (online retailer), TJ Hughes
Average monthly rent, one-bed flat: City centre: £580; Outside centre: £460
Cost of a pint: £3
Trainee bars: City Wine Bar & Kitchen, Trattoria 51, Goodness Gracious, The Club House
Best thing about Liverpool: ‘It’s just the right size: big enough to have plenty to do, with lots of shops which stay open after 6pm’; ‘it’s a very social city, everyone feels at home here and everyone at work is really friendly and sociable;’ ‘the nightlife is really good and everywhere is walkable’; ‘all the bars on Castle Street’
Spotlight on: DLA Piper
Where? Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield (also: London, Edinburgh,
Birmingham and 86 overseas offices)
Number of trainees: Total: 171; Leeds: 35; Liverpool: 10; Manchester: 20; Sheffield: 15
Salary (English regions): 1st year: £27k; 2nd year: £30k
Key strengths in Liverpool*: Banking and finance, commercial litigation, commercial property, tax, employment, pensions, local government, IT & telecoms
Clients: Liverpool FC, Trinity Mirror, boohoo.com, Barclays Bank, GE Capital, Aviva Public Private Finance, West Lancashire Borough Council
Fellow DLA Piper trainee Alison Boon is currently on client secondment but is based in the firm’s Sheffield office. She says, ‘I wanted to stay in Sheffield and they are the biggest and best firm here in my opinion. Plus, they have global connections, so you can live in Sheffield but still do international-calibre work. I’ve had really good exposure here and we get encouraged to have a lot of direct client contact.’
Jake Minards-Tonge, a trainee at Addleshaw Goddard in Manchester, chose his firm for similar reasons: ‘It was the quality of the work and international opportunities. For someone based in Manchester, you are doing the same quality of work that is in London, which was a big draw. I also did a vac scheme here and really liked the culture, and the people were so friendly and approachable.’ International secondments at Addleshaws include Dubai, Hong Kong and Muscat.
Leading firms*: Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Brabners, DAC Beachcroft, DWF, Gateley, Hill Dickinson, Squire Patton Boggs, Weightmans
Key sectors: Finance and professional services, manufacturing, health, retail, education, creative and digital
Local clients: The Co-operative Group, Umbro, PZ Cussons, Kellogg’s, Adidas, Siemens
Average monthly rent, one bed flat: City centre: £700; Outside centre: £500
Cost of a pint: £3.50
Trainee bars: Rain Bar, Épernay, The Old Grapes, Albert’s Schloss, The Alchemist; The Ape & Apple
Best thing about Manchester: ‘The legendary social life’; ‘so many different bars and restaurants within a small area, as opposed to London, which is all spread out’; ‘the city is buzzing and has really taken off in the past two years’; ‘it has everything London has but on a more manageable scale’; ‘the Whitworth gallery’; ‘good transport links to the rest of the country’; ‘the football – two Premier League football teams’.
Spotlight on: Addleshaw Goddard
Where? Leeds, Manchester (also: London and five overseas offices)
Number of trainees: total: 81; Leeds: 21; Manchester 24
Trainee salary: Leeds/Manchester: 1st year: £25k; 2nd year: £27k
Key strengths in Manchester*: Banking and finance, corporate and commercial, commercial litigation, tax, EU competition, employment, health and safety, local government, property, IP, IT and telecoms, media
Clients: Diageo, Adidas, HarperCollins, The Co-operative Group, PZ Cussons, Sainsbury’s, British Airways, Barlcays Bank
The smaller cities of the regions make networking with other lawyers and young professionals easier. Most have their own professional groups, such as the Manchester Trainee Solicitor Group, the Merseyside Young Professionals and the Yorkshire Professional Meet, which is run out of Pinsent Mason’s Leeds office. Emma Conwell did her LPC at BPP Law School in Leeds before joining Addleshaw Goddard in the city. She says, ‘One of the best things about working here is the close team of trainees, both within the firm and in Leeds in general. A lot of the firms here are contracted with BPP, so we see trainees from other firms all the time.’
While the northern cities are working hard towards growth, they are still small enough to offer a great work-life balance. Pinsent’s Rachael points out: ‘The hours can still be long, but it’s the accessibility of Leeds that appeals. I live a ten-minute walk from the office, so if I am working late I don’t have a long journey home ahead of me.’
Charlotte Staples is based in the Sheffield office of Nabarro. While acknowledging that there is a significant pay gap between trainees in London and the regions, she points out that it is a trade-off for a better quality of life: ‘Naturally, there could be resentment about the pay gap because you are doing the same work as London trainees, but there is such a difference in the cost of living and the quality of life. At the age of 25, I have been able to buy my own house, have a decent car and park at work. Sheffield provides that balance for me: quality of life and still the quality of work.’
Leading firms*: DLA Piper, Irwin Mitchell, Nabarro
Key sectors: Manufacturing, business and professional services, creative and digital industries, healthcare technologies
Local clients: HSBC (European IT centre); Thorntons, PlusNet
Average monthly rent - one bed flat: City centre: £530; Outside centre: £450
Cost of a pint: £3
Trainee bars: Hilton hotel bar on the quayside, Browns, The Old House (‘excellent mojitos!’).
Best thing about Sheffield: ‘It’s unique charm’; ‘the countryside is on your doorstep: you can be in the Peak District in half an hour, but you still have the city advantages and are also close to bigger cities like York and Leeds’; ‘lots of independent bars and restaurants rather than just chains’; ‘it’s quirky’.
Spotlight on: Nabarro
Where? Sheffield, Manchester (also: London, Brussels, Dubai, Singapore)
Number of trainees: Total: 55; Sheffield: 11; Manchester: 0
Salary (Sheffield): 1st year: £25k; 2nd year: £28k
Key strengths in Sheffield*: Commercial litigation, employment, health and safety property and construction
Clients: UK Coal, Capita, Department of Climate Change and Energy, Metrocentre Partnership, Land Securities
According to the latest figures from the Nationwide Building Society, the north of England is the cheapest region in England to buy property, with the average cost of a house currently: £144,361 (Yorkshire); £144,914 (North West); and £123,864m (North). The average price in London now stands at £455,984, a colossal disparity.
Above all, the cities of the north offer an outstanding social life. Just some of the social events provided by firms there for trainees and staff include Friday Fridge (free drinks in the office on the last Friday of the month), chilli and pizza nights, days out to the Grand National at Aintree and Headingley Cricket ground, indoor snow-boarding, ski trips abroad, football, rugby and netball teams, Break Out office escape games, bowling, summer and winter balls and, er, bingo.
Hannah Langford is in her fourth seat at Pinsent Masons in Manchester. ‘Our office is in Spinningfields, which is a great hub of restaurants and bars,’ she notes. ‘Manchester has a great nightlife, with lots of students around, and there are loads of theatres. So there are a lot of things to give you that work/life balance.’
Leading firms*: Bond Dickinson, Muckle, Sintons, Ward Hadaway
Key sectors: Creative and digital, science and health, retail, marine and offshore, tourism and leisure, professional services
Local clients: Go-Ahead Group, Bellway plc, The Sage Group, Northern Powergrid Holdings, Virgin Money, Greggs
Average monthly rent, one bed flat: City centre: £580; Outside centre: £410
Cost of a pint: £3.20
Trainee bars: Pitcher and Piano, Bridge Tavern
Best thing about Newcastle: ‘The social scene is awesome’; ‘very cheap to live here’; ‘the Premier League football team – for now’; ‘the Metrocentre, Europe’s largest shopping centre’; ‘the Eldon Square redevelopment’.
Spotlight on: Bond Dickinson
Where? Newcastle, Leeds (also: London and four other UK offices)
Number of trainees: Total: 53; Newcastle: 19; Leeds: 5
Salary (English regions): 1st year: £25k – £28k; 2nd year: £27k - £30k
Key strengths in Newcastle*: Bond Dickinson leads the Newcastle legal market in all almost all practice areas
Clients: Go-Ahead Group, Northern Powergrid, Arriva, British Gas, TOTAL, KPMG, Newcastle City Council, Ministry of Justice
Nottingham-born George Matthew is a trainee at the Newcastle office of Bond Dickinson who stayed on in the North East after his degree at Newcastle University. He explains his choice of firm: ‘I really liked the ethos here; you undertake very competitive work and you work really hard, but there is still a strong social side to the firm. Seven months into my training contract and it has definitely lived up to expectations.’
One trainee well-placed to compare London life with the North is Alexander Kelsall at DWF. After completing his law degree at King’s College London, he took time out to gain work experience and complete an LLM at Durham University before joining the Manchester office of DWF. His experience is enlightening: ‘When I was at King’s, I just wasn’t ready to start applying to firms. It was all a bit intimidating: the university is so big, London is so big and the City firms want you to apply in the first or second year of your degree. I needed those couple of years out to mature, get my head together and ultimately work out whether law was the career for me. So much recruitment is geared towards London – even when I was completing my masters at Durham, the recruitment felt very London focused. It takes a bit more self-discovery to find out there are firms doing comparable work to London in other fantastic cities.’