Legal Review: Bristol goes from strength to strength as City firms head West

September 20, 2012

Bristol continues to strengthen as a centre for legal services and is increasingly acting as a magnet for City of London firms seeking lower-cost operations.

At the same time its larger law firms are continuing to establish themselves as major national, rather than just regional, players through a combination of mergers and organic growth.

These themes emerge from the latest Legal 500 – the sector’s ‘bible’ which was published today and which provides a powerful overview of the state of the market, highlights the firms which are setting the pace and identifies the individual movers and shakers in those firms.

As a result the Legal 500 has become an essential tool for organisations buying legal services and those eager to find out more about the health of the sector.

According to the Legal 500, many firms in the South West describe the market as flat, and few expect a return to significant growth in the near term.

However, more positively, it notes that City-generated work continues to flow to the region, as the lower overheads allow firms to attract clients with the proposition of high-quality work done for lower fees. Bristol’s importance as a legal centre appears to be growing, in terms of quality of instructions.

The arrival this autumn of major City firm Simmons & Simmons underlines this trend and the announcement this week of merger talks between Bristol ‘big two’ firm Osborne Clarke and large London firm Field Fisher Waterhouse adds to the view that Bristol is being seen as a centre for high-quality, but lower-cost, work.

At the same time firms based further down the regional in centres such as Plymouth and Exeter, have continued to open offices in Bristol to raise their profile and gain higher-value work.

Certain sectors in the South West, according to the Legal 500, have seen notable changes: in personal tax matters there has been a sharp rise in contentious probate work, while in the personal injury field, Court of Protection work has been developing in the region.

“Agriculture and estates has seen a movement away from landed estates work, towards large-scale food production matters,” it reports. “Other areas seeing increased levels of activity include corporate, property-related contentious insolvency, and litigation.”

While Bristol is attracting work from London, Plymouth firms are increasingly performing support work for Bristol firms.


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