Unique opportunity for West of England to become a major hub for legaltech, report shows

March 19, 2021

The West of England has the potential to become the UK’s leading centre for the fast-growing legaltech sector outside of London, according to a new report.

With Bristol and Bath already an established centre for the legal firms – 26 of the UK’s top 100 have a presence in them – and the cities boasting a burgeoning fintech sector, the region is fertile ground for legaltech firms. 

Developing the sector – described as the use of technology and software to provide and aid legal services – would not only create businesses and skilled jobs and so boost the region’s economy but also widen access to justice at a time when many in the legal profession fear the most vulnerable in society are increasingly at risk of being excluded.

The report, commissioned from Whitecap Consulting by the Bristol Law Society, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and Bristol+BathLegalTech, analyses the region’s strengths in legaltech and innovation and sets out recommendations for growing the sector.

These include building cross-sector links with expanding – but more established – sectors such as fintech and tapping into the region’s powerful ecosystem links between universities and businesses.

It also says by highlighting legaltech’s role in increasing access to justice, the sector can attract talent to the region, especially graduates.

The report reveals that: 

  • Legal sector employment in the West of England is 1.6 times the national average outside London
  • Some 478 legal businesses operate in the region – with an estimated Gross Value Added (GVA) of £581m
  • 26 of the UK’s top 100 law firm have a presence in the region
  • Bristol and Bath is also home to 230 SME law firms, representing 88% of the law firms in the region, excluding barristers.
  • More than 750 roles in ‘legal technology’ have been identified in the region within law firms and legaltech firms
  • Nearly 1,200 law students graduate each year, equating to 4.4% of the region’s total graduates and higher than the UK average of 3.9%.

As a result there are huge opportunities for legal firms to adapt and become more efficient in how they work and provide services, the report says. 

Of the 26 top 100 law firms with an office in the region, 13 have their head office here, making it stand out against other regions.

Bristol and Bath is also home to a cluster of 30 legaltech firms, a number of them – including Helm360, Iken and SOS Legal – which have been in the region for an average of 22 years.

However, the median age of legaltech firms in the region is just two years, indicating the sector as a whole has been a recent and rapid development despite its more established incumbents.

The report also shows there is an established talent stream available to the region’s law firms, thanks to the established legal sector. The region’s 9,071 law employees make up 1.32% of the region’s total workforce – a third higher than the UK average proportion and generating an estimated £582m GVA .

Some 769 of these are estimated to be in legaltech roles, mainly in law firms although 152 are in legaltech businesses.

West of England Mayor Tim Bowles, pictured, who leads WECA, said: “This report shows that the West of England is the place for legaltech in the UK. 

“It’s easy to see why, with our globally recognised tech and creative sectors fusing with legal and professional services to revolutionise how clients are advised and firms operate to create the jobs of the future.

“The data and insights in this report are not only valuable for our region but for the entire country, being the first comprehensive survey of legaltech in the post-Covid world. With such a strong cluster in Bristol and Bath, I look forward to us welcoming more talent and new businesses to the region soon.”

Ben Holt, Bristol Law Society (BLS) president and a partner at Bristol-headquartered law firm VWV, pictured below, added: “Legaltech collaborations can assist with access to justice and make a huge difference to the more vulnerable members of society. It also provides a route to achieving more diversity and inclusion in legal tech careers.

“We need to make innovation and legaltech a long-term success story for the region and further demonstrate its enviable position as a world class innovation hub.”

West of England Local Enterprise Partnership chair Steve West said the report recognised the unique opportunity for legaltech businesses based in the region.

“Combined with the existing strength of our tech and professional service sectors and our long history of innovation, this report demonstrates that we are well positioned to lead digital transformation and create the future of legaltech,” he added.

Regional strategy firm Whitecap Consulting worked with local expects to conduct the analysis; engaging with key stakeholders across the legal and tech sectors.

The report was sponsored by WECA’s inward investment and international trade arm Invest Bristol & Bath, which will used it to inform the national debate about the development of a legaltech industry as well as promote the strength of the sector nationally and internationally, attracting further investment and business opportunities to the region.

Click on the image below to see the extent of the West of Enland’s legaltech ecosystem


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