There are a number of cities in Yorkshire that act as legal hubs, drawing in work from their immediate surroundings. Here are the main ones, along with a round-up of the market in each:
Leeds is Yorkshire’s largest city, and its legal market has long been dominated by the so-called ‘Big Six’: Addleshaw Goddard, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Squire Patton Boggs and Walker Morris. Between them, these six dominate the upper two tiers of Chambers UK rankings in Yorkshire for M&A, banking, litigation, real estate, insolvency and employment.
There is a distinction to be drawn here. Of those six firms, five are ‘nationals’– for them, their office in Leeds is just one of many dotted all over the country. The outlier is Walker Morris, which is proudly single-site and has no plans to change this. The national firms – DLA Piper and Eversheds in particular – tend to score their work in London and then send it up to Yorkshire and the other regions, where it can be done more cheaply.
Below the Big Six, a number of others jostle for position. There are two more national firms, neither of which quite challenges the big boys in the mainstream areas of practice but pick up some top rankings in other areas: DWF for social housing, and DAC Beachcroft in professional negligence. These have recently been challenged by another two national firms looking for a slice of the action: Bristol-headquartered Bevan Brittan opened up shop in 2015 after pinching a couple of lawyers from DWF with healthcare and real estate expertise, while Shoosmiths – which has ten offices stretching from Southampton to Edinburgh – opened a new base in Leeds at the end of 2016 after nabbing two employment partners from local firm Gordons.
Then there’s a couple of Yorkshire-based firms that frequently crop up in the third and fourth tiers of the Chambers UK tables: Gordons, which originated in Bradford but now has a home in Leeds; and Clarion, which split from another firm in 2007. Gordons' training partner Barbara Rollin explains the firm's approach in the region: “We recognise that the 'Big Six' have been looking further afield. We've seen that there's an opportunity for us there – to fill the gap left by those firms, as there are many good businesses in the region that we can service.” Leeds also plays host to litigation specialist Stewarts Law who sweep up a top ranking for the region.
Leeds is sizeable enough that it supports many more law firms, though their appearances in the Chambers UK rankings tend to be more sporadic and in lower tiers than the firms already mentioned. However, that’s not to say they can’t offer excellent training. For example, Wrigleys doesn’t rank in mainstream areas like corporate or litigation but does come top locally for private client and agriculture and rural affairs, and is recognised as one of the best firms in the country for charities work particularly in the education, ecclesiastical and arts and heritage sectors. We’d also draw your attention to Lupton Fawcett.
Sheffield, Yorkshire’s second largest legal hub, has what you might call a ‘Big Three’. Despite going national and then international, DLA Piper retains a strong presence in the city where it was born. Irwin Mitchell is another Sheffield-born outfit that has since expanded into other regions.
Another global giant with a presence in this regional hub is CMS, which recently swallowed up Nabarro and Olswang in a three-way merger in 2017. The Sheffield office is a Nabarro legacy and back in the dim and distant past was the in-house legal department of UK Coal. Miners’ injury claims were initially a major source of work, but now the office specialises in real estate, corporate and litigation, for which it receives nods in Chambers UK.
There could be more office launches on the cards: Sheffield's city council recently launched a 'northshoring' campaign to encourage southern firms to cut the ribbon in the steel city. If they do decide to establish a presence, incoming firms will have to take into account competition that extends beyond the 'Big Three' – hlw Keeble Hawson, for instance, is broadly comparable with the likes of Lupton Fawcett in Leeds.
Hull also has a Big Three, but they're smaller than Sheffield’s major firms, so we’ll call them the ‘Little Big Three’. For both corporate and dispute resolution work, there’s not really a lot to choose between them; they are all comparable with the firms at the mid-to-lower end of the Leeds market.
However, away from the main areas of practice, they each have different areas of specialism. Gosschalks has a very fine licensing group, which is ranked in Chambers UK's second tier for the regions; Rollits has a well regarded agriculture and rural affairs practice, but also picks up nods for its real estate, banking, employment work. Finally, Andrew Jackson is well regarded for private client, real estate, banking, employment and family work, and has one of the best shipping teams outside London (not to mention one of the best groups in the country for fishing law).
The York market is small but does have a few commercial firms of note. The largest independent players in the Minster city are Langleys and Lupton Fawcett. While each picks up a handful of Chambers UK rankings, neither has quite the breadth of practice as the firms in Hull; still, the quality of their M&A work is of a similar level. Private client firm Grays has just five partners but comes top in the York and Hull agriculture and rural affairs category.
There are other fine firms in Yorkshire, both in the main cities and outside them. Affluent Harrogate, for example, is home to McCormicks. The main man here, senior partner Peter McCormick, is widely regarded as one of the UK’s finest sports lawyers and quite a big cheese on the regulation of solicitors. Other lawyers at the firm have excellent reputations in the region for criminal, employment and private client work.
Across the Humber in Lincolnshire, and just outside God's Own Country which is why we mention it here, you'll find regional firm Wilkin Chapman. This petite outfit's main offices are Grimsby and Lincoln, but it has five other outposts in the region including in Yorkshire's Beverley and Sheffield. The firm is Chambers ranked for corporate and real estate work in the broader East Midlands region and for agricultural, family and private client law in Lincolnshire.