Two tiers of legal cities outside of London says new report

Stewart Taylor

There is a two-tiered hierarchy of legal cities outside of London according to a report by a property consultancy.

In its Law in the Regions report, CBRE classified cities according to the total office space in each occupied by law firms in Legal Business’ Top 100. This analysis shows a “two-tiered hierarchy” of leading regional cities for law firm occupation.

The top tier of Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester, each have well over 750,000 sq ft of office space occupied by law firms, ahead of the second tier cities of Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow, with volumes in the 300,000-500,000 sq ft range.

The report also delivers an overview of the legal sector in regions throughout the UK, providing results of a sector benchmarking exercise, revealing indicators such as top 30 law firm locations, top cities by number of fee earners and average area and rent per fee earner.

Specific benchmark findings in the report for Scotland rank Glasgow and Edinburgh in the second tier of the most popular UK cities for law firm occupation, whilst Aberdeen ranks in eighteenth position.

Edinburgh remains the most established city in Scotland for legal services with six firms headquartered in the capital, compared to four in Glasgow. With the second highest number of offices for legal firms anywhere in the “Big Six”, Edinburgh commands the third highest rental per square foot, behind Manchester and Birmingham. Edinburgh and Glasgow also appear to use space more efficiently than the other cities with both providing the smallest average space per fee earner compared with their UK counterparts.

Although Aberdeen has four firms headquartered, and is much smaller than Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively in terms of total legal office size, it is the tenth largest UK regional city by number of legal offices, signifying the strategic importance for Scottish firms to have a presence in the UK’s energy capital.

Stewart Taylor, senior director in CBRE’s Edinburgh office agency team, said: “Law firms are undergoing a period of rapid evolution and transformation, fuelled by rising demand for legal services, increased pressure on fees and intensifying competition from more savvy, innovative competitors as well as freshly merged larger firms.

“Consequently we are seeing more companies tweaking their business models and reviewing their existing real estate footprints to make certain they are aligned with future objectives. This has led to a wave of legal office moves or expansions in most UK cities, often drawn by opportunities to take high quality, cost effective office space, operating at a substantial discount to London.”

Emma Jackson, associate director in CBRE’s research team, added: “Key to our findings is that one size does not fit all when it comes to real estate strategy; different business models and locations will require different approaches. One thing is certain however, law firms are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approach to real estate strategies, and as a result we are seeing a huge variety of different space requirements in UK regional cities and indeed a significant variation in the top cities by number of fee earners.”