Birmingham has one of the largest concentration of legal services in the UK outside of London, second only to Manchester and Leeds.
The legal market
Home to native, national and international firms alike, Birmingham also houses several universities and LPC providers, most notably the University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University, BPP and the University of Law. It's a veritable legal hub, boosted by fantastic transport links and the rapid growth of the financial and professional service sectors over the past few years. With HS2 set to provide even faster links to Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and London by 2026 you can bet the city's likely to remain an attractive place to park a law firm.
The firms which make up the jewels in the crown of Birmingham's legal scene come from far and wide. National players DLA Piper, Eversheds and Pinsent Masons dominate the top two tiers of the Chambers UK rankings for banking, corporate/M&A, litigation, real estate and employment in the region. Others who get a good look in include Squire Patton Boggs, Gateley, Midlands firm Browne Jacobson and native Birmingham outfits Gowling WLG and Shakespeare Martineau. Hovering under the big hitters are numerous other national and native firms: Shoosmiths, DWF, BLM, Mills & Reeve, Kennedys, Irwin Mitchell, Freeths and Trowers & Hamlins. All have a base in Brum and offer training contracts in the city.
Shakespeare Martineau is one of Birmingham's largest native firms and came about as a result of a recent merger between Midlands' firms Shakespeares and SGH Martineau. Both had bases in Birmingham and London, while Shakespeares also had offices in Leicester and Nottingham. Around a third of the newly-wed firm's national turnover is generated by its property department, where it assists both retail and commercial developers alike. It also specialises in energy and education sectors and has large teams tackling litigation and insolvency matters. The Birmingham branch draws in top-tier Chambers UK rankings for its private client, planning and professional negligence work, as well as for its agriculture and rural affairs finesse. Other practices earning a nod include real estate, corporate M&A, family and banking.
Just around the corner from Shakespeare's Birmingham office sits the second of Birmingham's large native firms: Gowling WLG. There must be something in the Brum water as Gowling WLG was also formed by a 2016 merger which pitched together Canada-based Gowlings with UK firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co (and Wragge Lawrence Graham was the result of a tie-up between Birmingham's Wragge & Co and London-based Lawrence Graham). But the mergers aren't over yet: the firm's indicated that it's expecting to undergo two more unions by 2020, with China and Germany lined up as potential targets. In addition, the firm's head of international projects, Quentin Poole, recently told the legal press that Gowling is actively looking for a possible merger with a mid-tier Singaporean firm. Back home in the Midlands the firm's construction, environment, IT, IP, litigation, pensions, planning, real estate and corporate/M&A groups are considered some of the best in the region.
Birmingham-headquartered Gateley was the very first UK law firm to go public on the Stock Exchange. Outside Birmingham, the firm has a slice of real estate in Manchester, Leeds, Leicester, London, Nottingham, Reading and Dubai. Its Midlands-based corporate team often tops the tables of most active advisers in the region, and the firm features in the Chambers UK rankings tables for a wide range of practice areas.
Midlander Browne Jacobson takes on a handful of trainees in Birmingham each year. The office is one of the firm's largest (second only to its HQ in Nottingham) and is accompanied by digs in London, Manchester and Exeter. Browne Jacobson's doubled in size over the past five years and revenue has also received a hefty boost: it jumped 9% in 2015/16 to £64 million. Chambers UK awards a fair few rankings to the firm's Midlands offering, most notably for its banking and finance, employment, IP, litigation, insolvency and tax work. Across the country the firm's got a good foothold in the education, healthcare and insurance industries, as well as in the public sector.
Freeths' Birmingham office is one of its many outposts across the Midlands; it also has bases in Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Stoke-on-Trent. Further afield you'll find Freethers in London, Leeds, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Oxford and Sheffield. In recent years, the ambitious firm has snapped up several regional players and launched four new branches (including Birmingham). It now plans to upgrade and grow several of its offices; in Birmingham the litigation team has been earmarked for expansion.
A host of major national firms – many of which have international links too – have a significant presence in Birmingham. International firm Squire Patton Boggs – formed by the 2014 merger between US-UK shop Squire Hammonds and Washington-based Patton Boggs – scores highly in areas such as banking, corporate, real estate, pensions, environment and insolvency. Eversheds, DLA Piper and Pinsent Masons are some of the top performers in the region and lawyers in their Birmingham offices benefit from being plugged into wider national and international networks.
East-Anglian native Mills & Reeve is best known for its work in the healthcare and education sectors, as well as for assisting private clients. For the latter, Chambers UK awards the firm top marks in Birmingham, as it does for its family practice too.
Irwin Mitchell made its name off the back of personal injury and clinical negligence cases, so it's no surprise the firm's Birmingham office performs well in these areas. It's particularly known for its strong international personal injury practice, assisting clients who've had accidents or sustained injuries abroad (think bouts of food poisoning and banana boat crashes). Insurance and litigation specialist Kennedys runs a small Birmingham office with just over 30 lawyers and one trainee. Around a third of its fee earners here get stuck into professional negligence claims.
National firm Shoosmiths recently gave its Birmingham digs an “amazing” refurb, according to trainees here. The full service office – which is especially known for its real estate and mid-market corporate work – is one of the firm's largest and tends to take on around seven trainees each year.
Funnily enough, it was Shoosmiths that first gave DWF the resources to move into the Birmingham market. Over the past ten years DWF has exploded from a two-office North Western firm to a 16-office national juggernaut. It launched in Birmingham in 2011 with Shoosmiths' former head of asset finance. The firm's presence in the city ballooned in 2013 when it acquired struggling local firm Cobbetts out of administration, giving DWF a ready-made highly regarded full-service office in the city with strong corporate, real estate and finance teams.
Trowers & Hamlins recently poached a three-partner commercial litigation trio from DWF as part of an ongoing attempt to boost its Birmingham-based disputes group. While it still doesn't pick up a Chambers UK ranking in this practice, it does secure a nod for its social housing work in the West Midlands. The firm combines its property, social housing and public sector work with a healthy dose of private wealth matters. The office welcomed its first batch of trainees in 2014.
Birmingham is a major legal hub in the UK and offers lots of opportunities for aspiring lawyers.