Leeds gets the nod as number two legal centre

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LAW firms had a busy 2011 in Leeds as the legal market began to adjust to the “new normal”, a process helped by the picking up of work priced out of London, the latest edition of the Legal 500 said today.

The legal directory gave a seal of approval to the city’s status as the leading legal centre outside the capital, adding that many firms “offer equal quality at a competitive price” to London lawyers.

“The same can be said of Sheffield... the region’s ‘second city’,” it added, pointing to its strong background in manufacturing and industrial services.

Elsewhere in Yorkshire, the Legal 500 said Hull, Harrogate and Bradford have a complement of well-respected and successful law firms. In spite of the regional challengers, the big six firms of Leeds – Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Squire Sanders and Walker Morris – remain the undisputed market leaders. “But they have not been immune to the effects of the recession; headcount and fee levels have, broadly, decreased,” said the Legal 500.

“The six have long had strong national practices, but have been casting the net even wider to obtain international instructions.

“This went some way towards overcoming the region’s overall decline in conventional ‘big-ticket’ work, in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, banking and real estate.

“Real estate litigation increased as a consequence of the economic climate, but did not quite reach the level that many anticipated.”

The directory said the number of lateral hires in the market reached new heights last year, with mid-tier firms reaping the benefits in many cases and picking up talent from all levels of the market.

At the lower end of the market, meanwhile, there was substantial consolidation as firms were hit by struggling SME clients.

Keeble Hawson and HLW Commercial Lawyers joined forces to become HLW Keeble Hawson; Sheffield firm Taylor & Emmet merged with Hallam Mediation, and Lupton Fawcett combined with Davidson Large, said the directory.

In its overview, the Legal 500 said: “Leeds is the epicentre of the Yorkshire market and remains as competitive as ever.

“Sheffield is the region’s second-largest legal market, while York, Hull and, to a lesser extent, Bradford and Harrogate all offer a broad selection of firms.”