Soph Memhi
Soph Memhi

Articles From the Team

East Midlands, East Anglia and Milton Keynes private practice salary review – 2022

The East Midlands, consisting of key legal hubs Nottingham, Leicester, Derby and Northampton

The legal market of the East Midlands used to be considered quite distinct from the West Midlands, East Anglia and Milton Keynes markets. Since Covid, home-working and hybrid cross-office teams have meant the East Midlands market is less distinct and has blurred around the edges into its neighbouring areas.

Candidates will often say they will consider a number of cities provided that they only have to go there two or three days a week. As a result they can access a far wider range of law firms than they previously thought possible.

New opportunities

The good train links from Northampton to Milton Keynes and London draw talent from the Northampton market, resulting in a local market which is built upon people “who have family connections there”. The short commute from Nottingham, Derby and Leicester to Birmingham also offers candidates many new options, including international firms in Birmingham.

The Nottingham offices of Eversheds, Browne Jacobson, Freeths, Shoosmiths, Shakespeare Martineau, Gateley and Geldards have all increased their regional NQ rates to levels which would previously have been market leading, but the ability to commute on a short-term basis to international firms in Birmingham, Milton Keynes or Cambridge has offered many options for strong candidates.

The consequence is that candidates can be holding multiple offers in different locations, leading to complicated decisions about work/life balance, commuting and salary.

Quality of life

Leicester does not have quite so many large firms, but with Freeths, Howes Percival, Gateley and Shakespeare Martineau pushing up the NQ rate on a regional level, local firms such as Nelsons have increased their NQ salaries to a competitive level.

Local Derby firms will also find themselves in a position of having to compete with the rise in NQ salaries to attract and retain talent. But, of course, the cost of living in locations such as Derby is lower than in Birmingham and can offer a great quality of life with the Derbyshire Dales on the doorstep.

The East Midlands does still offer a good work/life balance, with the regional heavyweight firms securing excellent work. As a consequence, progression in these firms can be rapid, with the ability to secure promotion at an earlier level than might be expected in other larger legal hubs.

East Anglia, consisting of key legal hubs Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich

The spires and colleges of Cambridge still provide a draw for legal talent, with their emphasis on life sciences and technology plus that all important “work/life balance” of working in Cambridge.

International firms such as Eversheds, Pennington Manches Cooper, Taylor Vinters and Taylor Wessing are all located in the city, as well as large national and regional firms including Birketts, Mills & Reeve, HCR Hewitsons and Howes Percival.

The top NQ salaries in this market come from the international firms, with Eversheds paying £62,000. Taylor Wessing has increased its London NQ salary from £81,000 to £95,000 so, consequently, we would expect a similar percentage rise in the salary for NQs in Cambridge.

Likewise, Taylor Vinters’ strategic combination in September 2021 will have done no harm to its NQ rates, although these are unpublished. Penningtons Manches Cooper is highly competitive with its salaries in Cambridge, and we have seen examples where it has been able to offer salaries in excess of £20,000 higher than its local competitors – even to candidates at a junior level.

With billable hours of 1,400-1,500 plus a work/life balance and punting on the River Cam, what’s not to like about the Cambridge legal market? That said, the draw of London is still strong, offering candidates many options with high salaries.

Norwich and Ipswich are distanced far enough away from London not to feel its pull quite so strongly. Firms such as Birketts have a strong presence in these areas as an East Anglian heavyweight, with decent regional salaries and competitive NQ rates. Howes Percival and Mills & Reeve are also present in the Norwich market and very good options for quality work.

Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes has its own strong legal market distinct from the rest of the area, with international players such as Dentons located there, plus large national and regional firms such as Freeths, Shakespeare Martineau, Shoosmiths, Howes Percival and HCR Hewitsons.

As a consequence of hybrid working and the 32-minute train journey, the pull to London is stronger than ever for Milton Keynes based lawyers.

Dentons has responded with competitive NQ salaries starting at £60,000, making it the highest NQ salary in this market. Shoosmiths went up to £58,000 in November, and national firm Freeths is not far behind, with an NQ rate of £54,000 which would have been market-leading just a few months ago.

The smaller Milton Keynes firms do struggle to compete with salaries being offered by the internationals and large nationals/regionals. However, their expectations are generally lower in recognition of this.

The international firms in Milton Keynes are starting to attract talent from smaller firms on the outskirts of London, with candidates realising they can commute in reverse, giving them the ability to step up to a larger firm offering better quality work which may not have been accessible in London for them.

In this highly competitive market, we would welcome conversations with anyone looking to assess their career options or even to negotiate their current salary. Get in touch for a confidential chat and for further market insights.

Back to our legal salary surveys overview 2022

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