Sean Cully, Senior Associate, discusses the Belfast private practice market in 2022 and market predictions for 2023...

From Sean Cully

Belfast has continued to develop its reputation as a major legal hub in 2022; a competitive business environment, a high-quality, experienced pool of legal talent and progressive universities continue to attract investment from legal employers to the city.

While remuneration has remained lower than the rest of the regional cities in the UK, and considerably less than firms in Dublin, competition among firms for the best candidates has seen salaries increase at all levels across the Belfast market.

However, despite an increase in salaries, this has not eased the shortage of solicitors which in turn is having an effect on the growth plans of commercial firms setting up here.  Northern Ireland has had the fastest growing legal sector of any UK region since 2013. While Northern Ireland accounts for only around 2.5% of employment in the UK legal services sector, with around 9,000 jobs, there have been 13 mergers between local firms and top 100 English firms in the past decade.

With UK national firms setting up operations in Belfast and with more English legal work being conducted here, the city now plays host to more UK‑headquartered international firms than any other UK city outside of London.

The merger trend continued last year when Gateley acquired Belfast based media law boutique Paul Tweed and Lewis Silkin combined with Belfast-based employment law specialists, Jones Cassidy Brett. Most recently, Clyde & Co completed its merger with BLM which has offices in Belfast and Derry, primarily focussed on insurance work.

In terms of practice areas, the technology sector in Northern Ireland remains one of the fastest growing sectors which in turn has seen demand for Commercial Technology Solicitors outstrip supply. Other practice areas where candidates are in high demand include Corporate and Construction.

Looking ahead into 2023, the demand for solicitors among the commercial firms in Belfast shows no signs of abating. With much talk about the recession in the UK, we might see demand for solicitors in areas such as Real Estate and Corporate slowing. However, at the time of writing we still have a number of live roles in these areas.

Connect with Belfast market specialist, Sean Cully via LinkedIn

Also read BCL's 2022 salary round-up for: