Which regions offer the best quality of life for lawyers? We trawled BCL's annual salary survey and examined average house prices in affluent neighbourhoods to discover which locations offer the best (and worst) affordability.
Over the last year or so the eye-watering salaries being offered by international firms for newly qualified solicitors in London have made headlines not just in the legal press but the mainstream media. However, while nobody can deny that the law is, on aggregate, a well-remunerated profession, the kinds of numbers that appear in the press are not always representative of the sector as a whole.
Every year BCL Legal publishes, and analyses, a nationwide salary survey for the profession. This provides interesting comparisons between different regional legal markets, and different practice areas.
We can add further colour to the picture by looking at what kind of lifestyle those salaries can buy. To do this, we have taken the mode (most common) salary for six years PQE solicitors at regional or boutique commercial firms and junior partners at national or international commercial firms, and compared them to, respectively, the average price of a semi-detached or a detached house in one of their regional legal centre’s most affluent suburbs.
We chose to concentrate on regional, national and international firms partly because of the availability of comparable data but also because, in general, lawyers are more likely to relocate around the country to work for larger firms than for smaller high-street practices.
This is, of course, subjective, and not every neighbourhood we have picked out will be directly comparable – however, we believe they are all areas in which successful professionals are likely to choose to live. Data on house prices was taken from Zoopla, based on sales completed within the last 12 months.
We have also focused just on the largest commercial and legal centre in each region. This means we have passed over Exeter, Leicester, Norwich, Sheffield, Liverpool, York and a host of other cities with thriving legal sectors – it is bound to cause arguments but by taking the largest market in each region we area able to make the most meaningful comparisons.
The neighbourhoods we selected for comparison were:
· Chiswick in London
· Altrincham in Greater Manchester
· Horsforth in Leeds
· Edgbaston in Birmingham
· Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire
· Chesterton in Cambridge
· Jesmond in Newcastle
· Henleaze in Bristol
· St Cross in Winchester
· Bearsden in East Dunbartonshire, near Glasgow
South East anomaly
The South East region is something of an outlier, covering a large area with a number of different legal centres. We could have chosen Cobham in Surrey for its proximity to Guildford, but that town is also comfortably within the London commuter belt, so instead we went for Winchester, within easy reach of Southampton.
Regional and boutique
Based on salary multiples (shown in brackets) the most affordable regions for an average six years PQE solicitor at a regional or boutique commercial firm are, in reverse order:
10. London (27 times mode salary)
9. West Midlands (17 times)
8. South East (15 times)
7. East of England (14 times)
6. North West (11 times)
5. South West (11 times)
4. North East (10 times)
3. East Midlands (8 times)
2. Scotland (7 times)
1. Yorkshire (6 times)
National and international
The best locations for quality of life for junior partners at the biggest firms are slightly different. In reverse order, they are:
10 (joint). London (27 times mode salary)
10 (joint). North East (27 times)
8. North West (12 times)
7 (joint). South West (9 times)
7 (joint). South East (9 times)
5. West Midlands (8 times)
4 (joint). Scotland (6 times)
4 (joint). East of England (6 times)
2 (joint). East Midlands (5 times)
2 (joint). Yorkshire (5 times)
Lies and statistics
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed some eyebrow-raising results. The most obvious of these is the North East, where houses in Jesmond are exceptionally expensive compared to salaries, and neighbouring areas.
If, for example, we had chosen properties in South Shields, home to Sandhaven, the Sunday Times’s best beach of 2022, the picture would have been very different – with six years PQE commercial solicitors paying five times salary for a semi and junior partners at top firms paying six times salary for a detached.
Similarly, Birmingham lawyers could pay considerably less to live in leafy Solihull than in Edgbaston. By contrast, had we chosen Cobham rather than Winchester, the average lawyer working in the South East would have found it almost as hard as their London counterparts to afford a spacious home.
It is worth noting that in some cases (East Midlands being a case in point) the affordability of property is a function of it being relatively cheap compared to the rest of the country. In other cases (the affordability mid-table South West, in particular) the price of property is relatively high compared to the rest of the UK, but so are lawyers’ salaries.
War of the Roses
The most interesting comparison for many solicitors will be between Manchester and Leeds. Less than 40 miles apart, the great trans Pennine rivals both boast very similar salary levels at regional and national or international firms, but find themselves positioned quite differently for affordability.
So, who is the winner? With relatively affordable property in top-end neighbourhoods and some of the highest salaries outside of London, we would have to say: Yorkshire.