One thing no business in Leeds or West Yorkshire need go without is legal advice. Leeds is the second largest legal centre in the UK, with five of the UK’s 20 largest firms and 150 in total employing more than 8,000 legal professionals.
Equally important, many of the big national firms have roots in Leeds and Yorkshire, having emerged from regional partnerships whose mergers have taken them on to the national stage and beyond.
But the city’s law firms have greater ambitions, and have created Leeds Legal, a promotional body to market their services around the world.
“London is known globally for its legal community and that attracts high-quality work,” says Neil McLean, managing partner in the Leeds office of DLA Piper. “We felt that if we could badge the Leeds legal community, we could attract similar work to the city.”
DLA Piper is one of the big UK firms that can trace its origins to Leeds, where it has been since 1780 under one name or another. Other large firms with local roots include Addleshaw Goddard (1775), Pinsent Masons (there since the 1850s) and Eversheds (1907). Hammonds, which went international from its Leeds base 18 years ago, originated with a firm created in 1887 in neighbouring Bradford.
The strength of the local economy is one reason for the success of the Leeds legal community, which has developed specialisms that reflect the needs of organisations based in Yorkshire.
Addleshaw Goddard, for example, serves many financial services organisations, having advised Yorkshire Bank since the mid-19th century. DLA’s relationship with the Leeds-based Burton fashion chain (now part of Arcadia) led to it developing a roster of retail clients that includes Boots, Mothercare and Stylo.
But all the larger firms have wider ambitions, and serve clients from further afield. Eversheds, for example, advises Bupa – based in London – from Leeds, as well US clients such as Dupont, the chemical group, and manufacturing conglomerate Tyco. Addleshaws acted for the Football League in its media rights deal for the three years from 2009-10 with Sky and the BBC. The Hammonds construction team has been involved in work around the 2012 London Olympic Games, while the firm’s Latin American desk advises Viña Undurraga, one of Chile’s largest and oldest wine producers, on its European expansion plans.
“Lawyers operating out of Leeds may be working anywhere in the UK or globally,” says Nigel McClea, head of Pinsent’s Leeds office and a leading light in Leeds Legal.
The buoyancy of the Yorkshire corporate scene has also provided Leeds firms with lucrative advisory work for acquisitions and buy-outs. Last year’s £783m ($1.6bn) management buy-out of Keepmoat, a Doncaster-based construction group and community regeneration company, was financed by Bank of Scotland but used advisers entirely from the Yorkshire region – including Eversheds, Hammonds and DLA’s Sheffield office.
Keith Froud, corporate partner at Eversheds, says his firm’s role in the £250m purchase of APV, an Invensys subsidiary, by SPX of the US showed the strength of the Leeds office. “It involved 52 jurisdictions, but we were able to do it all from Leeds.”
Despite all this activity, there is no difficulty in recruiting qualified staff in the city, says Paul Lee, senior partner of Addleshaw Goddard. “Yorkshire is a very attractive place to live. A lot of people might go south to university and then join a London firm. But after a period of time, they want to come back.”
“Lawyers still want to do high-quality work when they leave London, and they can find it here,” says Pinsent’s Mr McClea.
There is also home-grown talent from the two local universities, which have more than 1,800 students at undergraduate and post-graduate levels in their law schools.
“The local universities are very important to us,” says Mr Froud of Eversheds. “Leeds is a fantastic place to live – and a lot of graduates want to stay in the area after they finish their studies.”
Lower salaries in the region allow legal firms to charge lower rates than London offices, of course. But the large firms say that their Leeds offices are not just back offices for their London operations.
According to Addleshaw’s Mr Lee, the firm handles business for its top 20 clients at all of its three offices – London and Manchester, in addition to Leeds. “We do the work where we have the best people,” he says.
Further international recognition of Leeds as a legal centre is a priority for Leeds Legal. In November, it led a 10-strong delegation of lawyers and business leaders to Hong Kong and China to strengthen connections with their counterparts in the region.
After meetings with some of Asia’s top law firms in Hong Kong, the delegation travelled to Hangzhou in China, Leeds’s twin city, where they met economic development ministers to discuss regeneration and public private finance initiatives.
“At present, we take legal services to countries such as India and China and feed the work back to the city,” says Pinsent’s Mr McClea. “We want work to flow into Leeds because people in other countries recognise it as a global legal centre.”
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