Here's a quick primer on the Welsh legal scene (hint: it's mostly about Cardiff) and a look at what it's like living and working as a lawyer in the land of the dragon.
Croeso y Cymru
Cardiff sits pretty as Wales' legal, financial and commercial hub. Much of the capital's business scene is centred around Cardiff Bay, a former coal-shipping dockland that was completely transformed by a redevelopment project in the 1990s. Since then, the overhaul has attracted an influx of both new businesses and residents: the city's population rose by over 3.5% between 2011 and 2016, and is now estimated at over 358,000. On a wider scale, the Cardiff and South Wales Valleys metropolitan area comprises some 1.1 million individuals.
Cardiff's four big-hitting law firms are Blake Morgan, Eversheds, Geldards and Hugh James. With the Welsh government and numerous civil service offices based in the city, there's plenty of public sector work available. In September 2015, Blake Morgan and Geldards both won seats on the Welsh government's £60 million legal panel for the National Procurement Service Framework. As a result, Geldards' commercial property group has been beavering away on the M4's Newport extension, while Blake Morgan's construction team advised on the £12 million acquisition of Pencoed Technology park. For Geldards, this vote of confidence from the Welsh Government went one step further in the past year. In December 2015 the firm announced it would be expanding its Cardiff office to create a further 25 jobs, after receiving £127,000 of business funding from the Welsh government.
A number of legislative changes are also on the horizon, which could spell out opportunities for law firms in the region. The Wales Act received Royal Assent in December 2014, so expect further powers to be devolved from the United Kingdom to Wales. Businesses will be keen to know how these revisions will affect their trade, creating a fruitful source of private sector advisory work in the years ahead.
In addition, the Welsh Assembly is eager to cement the city's rep as a globally-recognised business hub, partly by naming the city the UK’s only 'Enterprise Zone' dedicated to financial and professional services. Since 2011, this government backing has helped to produce, protect or assist an estimated 10,000 jobs. Cardiff serves as the headquarters of Admiral Insurance is home to Legal & General's largest UK office, and household names such as Deloitte and HSBC operate out of the city. Notably, London law firm Lewis Silkin opened an office here recently too.
Land of my fathers... and Welsh cakes
So what else does this flourishing city have to offer? After a triumphant Euros, football has never been more popular in the Welsh capital. Still, it's rugby that remains the fire that truly makes the Welsh dragon roar. If you're lucky enough to snag Six Nations tickets, be sure to head down to Castle Street for a few pre-match pints of Brains bitter beside Cardiff Castle.
If the arts appeal more, Clwb Ifor Bach has one of the best gigging circuits going, and the Millennium Centre – home to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Welsh National Opera – has hosted acclaimed crowd-pleasers such as The Lion King and War Horse.
Outdoorsy types, fear not: you're just a short train ride from the Brecon Beacons, where weekends can be gleefully spent clambering over craggy ridges and warming up in village tea rooms. Welsh cakes – buttery and sugar-dusted – are a fruity delight not to be missed.
Whatever your interests, life in Cardiff affords trainees more free time than their London counterparts. One trainee in the city boasted: “The cost of living here is lower than in many other cities, so you get more choice over where you'd like to live. That means that my commute is shorter, I have more time to myself, and can realistically consider joining the property ladder.” Best of all, “you don't have to worry about compromising your professional ambitions. Cardiff is a capital city, and attracts high-quality work.”
How can you up your chances?
“We do look to prioritise local connections,” confirms Catrin Asbrey, head of HR at Geldards, reflecting a common approach among regional firms. But if you weren't born and bred in the same house that your great-grandma owned since the 1800s (which also happens to be across the road from the office) then fear not: any sort of demonstrable link – “be it through university education, family ties, or past experience living and working there – can really help to convince us that you're an investment for the future.”
Regional firms often foster ties with local law schools – a few fee earners from Geldards, for example, help out on Cardiff University's LPC employment module – so a stint studying nearby can be a great way to grease a few palms.
Cardiff University, Swansea University and the University of South Wales are all certified GDL and LPC providers. Cardiff also offers the BPTC. Prices are reasonable compared to many English institutions, plus Cardiff and USW offer useful work placement programmes in local firms, chambers and government departments. To find out more, why not check out our law school reviews?