Louisa Hill – manager in BCL Legal’s North West team...

What have been the main trends/ developments in your region over the past 12 months?
2013 has undoubtedly been a positive year in the North West legal market. A cautious air of optimism in Q1 seemed to gather momentum quickly as the market finally left behind memories of the deep recession of recent years and began to not only recover but grow. Law firms in the North West have demonstrated throughout 2013 an increased confidence by building up their recruitment activity. Across the board - from the top tier, to mid tier, smaller and niche/boutique practices, both in the city centre and out of town - an upturn in work has meant partners have been adding quality appointments to their streamlined teams.

What have been the real growth areas and where has the demand been coming from?
For previous years, the insurance litigation market has dominated growth in both the North West and nationally. Whilst personal injury, fraud and commercial insurance teams have remained busy, this year has seen a balancing in the market. Post recession, many feared it would take the transactional market years to recover, but there has been a clear increase in the number of non-contentious/ transactional roles at firms of all sizes across the region.

Residential and commercial property, corporate and banking teams are busier than ever, with firms increasing headcount - both at the junior and senior level. A challenge remains finding quality transactional lawyers to fill gaps; this is because few people qualified into these areas during the downturn. Newcomers into the market - such as TLT - have had an edge in attracting candidates from the national firms as they can offer a new and exciting alternative for ambitious people looking to progress. It is undoubtedly a candidate driven market, and with good quality transactional lawyers in hot demand they are in a strong position which looks set to continue into the new year.

What have been the key stories that have dominated your region/ sector?
2013 has seen a changeable legal market in the North West. Over the last 12 months, with newcomers and further consolidation in the market, the legal landscape has changed considerably. January brought arguably the biggest news of the year when Cobbetts entered into administration and was acquired by DWF. More activity followed in Manchester, in the form of George Davies merging with national firm Mills & Reeve; JMW acquiring Goodman Harvey and the recent (and soon to conclude) acquisition of part of longstanding Manchester stalwart Pannone by Slater & Gordon. Consolidation aside, Bristol firm TLT moved into the city and with managing partner David Pester at the helm, the firm looks set to be one to watch in 2014.

Outside Manchester, Wirral based Riverview Law has expanded significantly since launching in 2012 by capitalising on its impressive FTSE client wins. Chester heavyweight DTM Legal has opened its doors in Liverpool; and Hampson Hughes continues to grow its commercial offering with a move to new offices in the Albert Dock. Knights’ takeover of Hill Dickinson’s Chester office has been an exciting development in the Cheshire market with promise of further growth throughout 2014.

What are your predictions for your region for 2014?
Recovery from the financial crisis is well and truly underway. Manchester and the wider North West are growing and there is no reason to suggest this will slow in 2014. Value for money is, however, more important than ever before. With fees being driven down - and fixed fee schemes becoming more prevalent - this will carve the way for more unqualified fee earners and paralegals in the profession. Addleshaws and DWF have shown growth of their paralegal teams across disciplines and with more firms moving to ABS status, the provision of legal services looks set to keep constantly evolving into 2014 and beyond.

How would you sum up 2013 in one sentence?
Busy and constantly evolving – the North West is open for business and looks positive moving into the year ahead.