London undisputedly remains the epicentre of the UK’s legal sector. Over the last few years, however, as a result of a period of significant regeneration and investment, Manchester has reinvented itself and overtaken its northern cousin Leeds, to become the country’s second biggest legal hub.
The Manchester legal market is more buoyant than ever, with large numbers of solicitors dismissing the bright lights and relentless working culture of the capital for the city at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse. We’re thrilled about our hometown’s emergence as a centre of legal excellence, but just what is driving law firms up the M6 to the metropolis of Manchester?
To put it simply, in Manchester, business is booming. Once the world’s leading producer of cotton, the Manchester economy has since diversified and grown. The regeneration of areas including Castlefield, Spinningfields and MediaCity has helped to attract additional revenue streams to the city and, in 2017, it’s Manchester’s flourishing creative, financial and knowledge-based industries that are taking centre stage.
Greater Manchester’s economy is now larger than Croatia’s and, in recent years, the city has enjoyed more foreign investment that any other outside of London. Unsurprisingly, this prosperity has led to a number of global brands setting up shop in Manchester.
An emphasis on cost reduction in the post-recessional and post-Brexit economy has led to companies reassessing the importance of being based in the capital. Consequently, there’s been a wave of expansion in the north, with several large corporations, including the BBC, Talk Talk and Google, ‘north shoring’ and moving aspects of their businesses from London to Manchester. By doing so, they have been able to cut expenditure, benefit from the city’s emerging talent pool and gain a competitive advantage.
A strong legal centre
To capitalise on the hubbub of commercial activity, a growing number of international and City law firms are choosing Manchester as their northern base. Whether it be as a result of a merger, acquisition, or a completely clean break, the last 5 years has seen the likes of Slater and Gordon, Clyde & Co, Nabarro and Freshfields all settle in the city.
While five years ago, talented lawyers often had their hearts set firmly on moving to London, the arrival of these mega-firms in Manchester, which provide a flow of high-quality work from the capital for the region’s ambitious lawyers and legal support staff, mean that this simply isn’t necessary.
The significant pool of talented law graduates from Manchester’s top universities and law schools is also luring City firms up north. The city boasts one of the country’s largest law societies as well as the Manchester Young Solicitors and Manchester Trainee Solicitors Groups, which offer networking and development opportunities for the city’s lawyers.
By establishing a presence in Manchester, leading national and international firms have been able to reduce office and staffing costs and increase profits without compromising on quality. In 2014, Berwin Leighton Paisner opened a legal services delivery department to offer a more cost-efficient service to their clients. Since then, the firm has enjoyed considerable expansion, taken on some of the country’s first legal apprentices as part of government’s ‘Trailblazer Apprenticeship Scheme’ and is set to launch its first training contracts later this year.
But it’s not just the lawyers working for these legal heavyweights who will benefit from their arrival. By settling in Manchester, these firms, who are well-known for offering their lawyers eye-watering pay packets, will inevitably put pressure on legal salaries across the North West.
Manchester’s transactional market is busy at the moment, with regional and national firms such as JMW, DLA Piper and Shoosmiths jostling with the international newcomers for the best talent in town. As a result of the burgeoning real estate market, commercial property and transactional corporate solicitors are in particularly high demand. However, roles are also springing up in areas that have traditionally been London-dominated, such as pensions and employee benefits.
Many aspiring trainees working in these areas in Manchester are taking big steps in terms of firm size more quickly than they would be able to do so in the big smoke. While retention rates among Manchester trainees are high, NQ lawyers are certainly sought after, with firms looking at those who have recently qualified with the view to train them up.
For solicitors looking for a healthy work-life balance, Manchester certainly has a lot to offer. Compared with those in the capital who are burdened with long and crowded commutes into the city, many Mancunian lawyers are lucky enough to live within a short distance of their workplace. While working hours remain arduous, because lawyers in Manchester spend less time travelling to and from the office, they’ve got more free time to enjoy the city they live in.
City centre living is particularly common as a result of the endless high-rise apartment blocks that continue to spring up across the city. The leafy suburbs of Didsbury or Chorlton are also popular with the city’s lawyers. For those who wish to live further afield, Liverpool, Leeds and the Peak District are all less than an hour’s drive away.
The North West’s robust rail and motorway links mean that Manchester is perfectly positioned for lawyers across the regions. What’s more, the ever-expanding 60-mile Metrolink tram network seamlessly connects commuter towns including Bury, Rochdale and Altrincham to the city centre.
With the high-speed rail links HS2 and HS3 promising to cut travel time between Manchester and both Leeds and London in half within the next 20 years, the city will be more closely linked to the rest of the country than ever. Manchester Airport is also an extremely valuable asset, with one of the most varied route networks in the world and flights to over 200 destinations.
Moderate house prices
Unfortunately, the rising cost of living in the capital shows no sign of slowing down, but in Manchester, the price of property is considerably more affordable. Whereas in London, for many people owning their own home is simply a pipe dream, up North, where average house prices are around 4 times lower, it’s much easier for young lawyers to get on the property ladder.
Culture and social scene
With its vibrant musical and sporting heritage along with its numerous theatres, museums and art galleries, Manchester’s cultural scene rivals that of any other city in the UK. Additionally, in recent years, the city has become something of a foodie’s paradise and offers endless options for Friday night drinks and nibbles after a long week at the office.
The traditional pulling power of the capital is on the wane and increasing numbers of young lawyers are going mad for Manchester’s charm, industry and innovation. As investment continues to pour into the city and the cost of living and running a business in London keeps rising, the number of leading law firms and talented lawyers making the move up north is only going to increase. There’s certainly never been a more exciting time to be a lawyer in Manchester.
If you’re considering relocating to Manchester, Realm Recruit can help. Our expert consultants are specialists in the regional market and can connect you with key players in your preferred practice area. Call us for a confidential discussion today on 03300 245 606 or visit our jobs page to view our latest legal jobs in Manchester.