BLOG: Latest trends in the legal sector


Hays is the world�s leading recruitment specialist and last year alone placed 67,000 people into permanent roles and over 220,000 people into temporary roles. The Leeds office offers a broad range of specialist divisions including legal, finance, HR, IT, procurement, construction and property, engineering and office support. In addition there are large specialist teams offering recruitment services to the healthcare, education and social care sector.

As Business Director at Hays Specialist Recruitment in Leeds, Adele specialises at the senior end of the Legal market placing partners, legal directors and teams into the larger law firms and general counsel/heads of legal and senior lawyers into industry. Adele leads a team covering the junior and mid-level market and is frequently called upon to advise law firms and organisations on market trends, recruitment and retention strategies, and has extensive experience in the drafting of senior level business plans and regularly advise law firms upon mergers and bolt-on possibilities.

What does the Leeds legal sector specialise in?

Leeds is the legal heart of Yorkshire - a vibrant and constantly expanding major legal centre comprising a vast array of law firms from major nationals, key regional practices, high profile boutiques and highly regarded personal law firms. The market is dominated by the �Big Six�, comprising Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds Sutherland, Pinsent Masons, Squire Patton Boggs and the heavy hitting, single site firm, Walker Morris. The Big Six have long been perceived as the Leeds heavyweights who (in the main) offer the full suite of commercial services to organisations ranging from UK PLCs and international conglomerates to major regional clients.

In recent years there has been an influx of additional national firms into the city. Back in 2007, Dickinson Dees (then a North East practice with a strong PLC client base) moved into York with the acquisition of corporate boutique Philip Ashworth & Co. In 2012 the entire office moved across to Leeds and since merging with Bond Pearce in 2013 a further national law firm has a base in Leeds. This month�s announcement of a �transatlantic combination� between Bond Dickinson and US firm Womble Carlyle will give us Womble Bond Dickinson by October of this year. Also in 2007, Mills & Reeve announced its intention to launch in the city on the back of the acquisition of Addleshaw Goddard�s family practice. Fast forward some 10 years and the office now offers a range of legal services to its clients.

Gateley launched in Leeds in 2012 with the arrival of partners Willy Ballmann and Rob Payne. Now with an office 65 strong they are an exciting presence in Leeds, especially as the firm made legal business history when it became the first UK law firm to float on the London Stock Exchange back in June 2015.

Freeths (previously Freeth Cartwright) launched in Leeds in January 2014. This came hot on the heels of its Sheffield office launch. Boasting numerous partner hires from the Top Six law firms in Leeds, Freeths continues its organic growth with the acquisition of key talent from rival firms.

In 2015 Bevan Brittan, a firm with a strong public sector pedigree, with offices in Bristol, London and Birmingham also launched in Leeds. This followed the setting up of rival practice Capsticks Leeds office in 2011. Also in 2015, national insurance and commercial practice Weightmans came to Leeds with the acquisition of Ford & Warren, a longstanding Leeds practice.

Shoosmiths much heralded arrival in late 2016 led to a number of high profile Leeds lawyers defecting to join the new set up. Headed by ex Gordons Employment Head, Paul Stokey, the office has ambitious plans and is due to move into state of the art premises at The Platform later this year.

Leeds boasts an impressive insurance offering too. DAC Beachcroft has long been a major force and is now joined by the aforementioned Weightmans. In January of this year Triton was acquired by DWF. Claimant practice Irwin Mitchell has a strong offering in the city as part of its Personal Legal Services Division, as well as a core commercial offering (Business Legal Services) and Private Wealth Services.

Boutique specialists include Stewarts Law, very much a jewel in the crown for specialist litigation lawyers in the city and Wrigleys, highly regarded for its expertise in non-contentious matters such as private client law, charities and property law. 3volution is highly regarded as a niche commercial practice. Optima Legal (formerly part of DLA Piper and now owned by Capita) was traditionally focused on volume services for financial clients but now has a broader remit. In February of this year Devonshires opened its first regional office in Leeds, with the focus very much being on banking, securitisation and housing finance property.

Yorkshire practices such as Shulmans, Clarion, Schofield Sweeney, Gordons, LCF Law, Blacks and Lupton Fawcett are also key players in our region. The Leeds office of Newcastle headquartered Ward Hadaway (who recently announced the end of merger talks with Weightmans) has seen growth by attracting key senior hires in recent years.

On the in-house side, Leeds is blessed with an array of outstanding in-house legal teams ranging from the largest teams at the key financial institutions and those supporting the more digitally focussed businesses, right through to sole counsel supporting smaller businesses. Public sector legal teams are well represented in the city. We have not only NHS England and NHS Digital but Leeds is also a key legal centre for the Government Legal Department and this year has witnessed significant investment in the growth of its legal team.

What is graduate retention like here?

Leeds offers an array of opportunities and choice both for aspiring lawyers looking to secure training contracts and also for newly qualified lawyers either looking to stay at their current practice or seeking the fairly common route of an �NQ� move to another practice. Training contract and NQ opportunities within industry remain less common but are on the rise.

How is digital technology affecting the legal sector in Leeds City Region?

Leeds is most certainly a key hub for tech and digital. Leeds City Region digital sector employs 102,000 people and is home to 12,300 businesses working in this sector. The steady growth of the digital economy in the city has resulted in an abundance of opportunities for lawyers wanting to specialise within the IT sector.

NHS Digital has its headquarters here in Leeds and has an expanding legal team headed by Hazel Randall, previously of DLA Piper.

Hazel comments: �Leeds has developed a virtuous circle. The sustained rise of high quality technology and data services in the Leeds area, has created a hotbed of digital entrepreneurship and talent, which then further attracts high quality support services. A wealth of ICT legal talent has been attracted to the area, and is offering world class services to our locally based business.�

This year Sky Bet hired senior Leeds lawyer Ben Murphy as its Chief Legal Officer. Ben knows all too well the opportunities afforded to IT and commercial lawyers in the city and comments ""Businesses in the digital tech space need to be fast-paced and dynamic, as staying one step ahead of the competition is critical. This creates a need for a particular type of lawyer: fast-thinking, agile, creative and responsive. It's a bit of a clich�, but they need to be comfortable thinking outside of the box.""

With Callcredit as a major employer in the city, not to mention William Hill and EMIS amongst others, opportunities for IT lawyers are expected to grow and grow. Even outside of the core IT related companies, IT lawyers are becoming sought after as a key value-add to any in-house legal team. The legal teams within the major financial institutions in the region (HSBC, Leeds Building Society, Lloyds, NAB, YBS etc) all have strong legal IT capability, as do the telecommunications businesses within the Leeds City Region.

Where do you see the next big opportunities for the legal sector in Leeds City Region?

For lawyers, the influx of new practices into the city has afforded ample opportunities for partners with a portable client base as well as more junior lawyers looking to join law firms with less restrictive career paths. For law firms, Leeds remains an attractive offering for �North-Shoring� opportunities. With an abundance of talented lawyers and a significant potential paralegal pool from the key legal educational establishments within the city, Leeds remains an attractive proposition for London practices looking to divest themselves of the less specialist areas of services, as opposed to setting up in more saturated legal markets.

DLA Piper�s decision to base its international �Legal Delivery Centre� in Leeds has created many opportunities, especially for more junior lawyers. Focussed on the �design and implementation of solutions for repeat legal work�, the team headed by Phil Robinson supports the firm across its network of international offices. This follows the set-up of the Transaction Services Team by Addleshaw Goddard back in 2010. TST now covers all their UK offices, including Leeds.

How would you describe working in the sector in Leeds?

Since leaving the legal profession as a qualified lawyer back in 1995, the Leeds legal market has provided me with 22 years of fun, enjoyment and incredibly rewarding times. Working closely with managing partners, heads of departments and HR professionals to secure key legal professionals has been brilliantly fulfilling. There has been laughter, tears and more. I have been tremendously privileged to work with so many engaging and talented people.

What do you think are the most interesting developments and trends happening in Leeds City Region?

Firstly, the tremendous growth in commercial law firms in the city over recent years (as discussed above) has proved very exciting. The Leeds Conference on 14th June, hosted by Bill Barton of the Leeds Law Society (and with an impressive line up of speakers), was an excellent day, aimed at promoting Leeds as a world-class legal centre. From an investment perspective, the decision by Burberry to move 300 jobs from London to Leeds has been a good news story for the city. The potential for HS2 and the continuing plans for the Northern Powerhouse (not to mention the possibility of a revamped Leeds station) are clearly positive for the city and we await further developments.

From a work-life balance perspective, the offering of more agile and flexible working patterns by the legal profession has been noticeable. This year Walker Morris announced a new agile working policy enabling all lawyers from newly qualified level upwards to work flexibly, at home for example, one day per week. Such flexibility within the legal profession is clearly key for both recruitment and retention purposes and has been very well received.

If you would like to discuss investment opportunities in the legal sector in Leeds City Region, please call the team on 0113 348 1850 or email