Louisa Hill – senior associate in the North West – talks about her patch...

I’m pleased to say 2011 was a positive year in the North West legal market.  Although the economy undoubtedly remains tough, 2011 has been much more encouraging and law firms have demonstrated more confidence in the market by increasing their recruitment activity.  Across the board from the top tier, to mid tier, smaller and niche/boutique practices, an upturn in work has meant partners have sought to add to their streamlined teams with quality appointments.

The insurance market continues to dominate.  Specialist insurance and professional indemnity firms Clyde & Co and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert joined, creating an international giant, and the merger of DAC and Beachcroft means an exciting heavyweight in the Manchester market has been born.  The Weightmans and Mace & Jones merger completes the picture, and will change the Manchester and Liverpool legal communities dramatically going forward.

As the country emerges from a deep recession, many feared it would take the transactional market longer to recover; however, there has been a cautious air of optimism and an increase in the number of non-contentious roles at firms of all sizes.  Real estate, corporate and banking teams are busier, with firms such as Pinsents, Eversheds, DLA Piper and Addleshaws all increasing headcount; both at junior and senior levels.  Key moves at the partner level include the appointment of Neal Shepherd as a partner to the corporate team of Addleshaws from DLA Piper, Tom Bridgford moving to Eversheds to head up the commercial team from rival Squire Sanders & Hammonds and Samantha Livesey to Pinsents from regional heavyweight Pannone.

Some firms have also continued to grow across all disciplines despite the difficult conditions.  DWF is a prime example with continued growth in the North West including new offices in Birmingham & Newcastle, the recent announced merger with Crutes in the North East and continued rumours about discussions with national firm Cobbetts.  JMW also continues to grow from strength to strength, with a string of high profile hires including corporate partner Chris Moss, and both Ian Tranter and Carl Moran in employment from Pannone and Nexus respectively.  McGrigors and Shoosmiths also continue to grow in Manchester and are undoubtedly firms to watch in 2012. Both offer an exciting alternative to the top tier for ambitious candidates looking to progress.

It is still early days in the recovery following the financial crisis, but there are enough signs that the Manchester market place is tough enough to not only survive, but grow.  Value for money is, however, more important than ever before. With fees being driven down and fixed fee schemes becoming more prevalent which will carve the way for more unqualified fee earners and paralegals in the profession.  Addleshaws and DWF have already launched paralegal teams across discipline, and with alternative business structures firmly on the horizon, the provision of legal services is set to change radically in 2012 and beyond.