City’s lawyers among first to reap benefits as corporate deals seal ‘second city’ status

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LEEDS was one of the first legal centres to benefit from last year’s renaissance in corporate deals, according to the latest edition of the industry bible, The Legal 500.

The Legal 500, which is published today, says that Leeds is still “arguably the country’s second city for legal services”. The influential guide to Britain’s law firms states that Leeds has been boosted by a notable increase in corporate and real estate transactions and a revival of capital markets activity, “the effects of which were also felt in the manufacturing hub of Sheffield and in smaller entrepreneurial towns such as Hull, Harrogate, York and Bradford”.

The top slice of transactions remain heavily weighted towards a group of Leeds firms – the so-called Big Six – each of which reported a strong year. However, The Legal 500 says there are signs that this picture might be changing.

More than 400 jobs were saved when DWF bought rival Cobbetts out of administration in a pre-pack deal last year.

The Cobbetts team included staff in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.

The Legal 500 says: “DWF’s acquisition of Cobbetts arguably gives the firm comparable leverage to the Big Six, and there is no shortage of strength in the mid-market to keep the bigger firms on their toes.

“With offices in Leeds and Bradford, Gordons continues to service Wm Morrison Supermarkets; and Irwin Mitchell retains strong offices in both Leeds and Sheffield. Lupton Fawcett Lee & Priestly merged with Denison Till to form Lupton Fawcett Denison Till, a 140-lawyer firm now with contentious construction, landed estates and agricultural expertise, in addition to corporate strength.”

In 2013, the sad death of Neil Thomson, of Shefffeld-based Hill Dickinson, left a significant gap in that firm’s offering, according to the Legal 500.

“The firm now fields a substantially reduced corporate service, and its commercial litigation team was shut down,’’ the Legal 500 says.

In March, Leeds’s place in the legal pecking order came into question. Des Hudson, the outgoing chief executive of The Law Society, said that he believed Manchester had overtaken Leeds as the fastest growing legal centre outside London.

Mr Hudson said he believed that the movement of key decision makers out of Leeds was one of the reasons Manchester has gained the upper hand. His claims were questioned by Leeds-based lawyers, who highlighted the fact that a number of major Manchester-based law firms have collapsed in recent years.