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Law outside London: a series

Law outside London: a series

Bethany Barrett

13/05/2020

As you know from my LCN bio, I aim to give a voice to students who want to work outside of the City. Not cities in general, just ‘the’ City. With a capital C. London. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing personal against it and can understand perfectly the reasons for wanting to live and work there. Would-be lawyers flock there in their droves every year, captivated by the swanky offices, out-of-this-world perks and high-status work offered by the firms. But this does not mean that choosing to not work in London is somehow a less worthwhile venture.

After being told by a partner at a large firm that I would “have” to work in London if I ever wanted to do any “actually good” work, I spent a lot of time researching the truth of this statement. London is the capital city of England, so of course there are going to be more firms, more trainee places and more legal work found in the City. The glamour this brings offers the opportunity to live out your inner Suits dreams and be the next (British) Harvey Spector. But just as London offers more of almost everything, it also generates increased competition for those coveted trainee places – you’re not the only one dazzled by those bright lights! The competitive culture the City breeds – not just within law firms, but also more generally – serves to enhance its mystique, pulling students in with the promise that to succeed there is to win somehow, to prove to everyone that you are the best of the best. This itself is a contributing factor to the myth that London is the only place you should want to work if you are a strong legal graduate. Reading between the lines of the City’s culture, working anywhere outside of the London must mean that you were not good enough for its gold-paved streets. Because if you are good enough, why wouldn’t you want to work there?

It was at this point in my research that I came to a realisation that brought the whole argument for ‘having’ to work in the City crashing down. Just because London is great, does not mean that other places are not. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But maybe not, especially when it is 2020 and some partners are still telling applicants that working outside of London is not a viable choice if you want to access high-quality legal work. This is not to say that every lawyer in London is like this; the majority are not, and the tide is changing on this City-centric attitude, particularly with projects such as High Speed 2 and the Northern Powerhouse highlighting the opportunities for development in the rest of the country.

In days gone by, it was perhaps more understandable that the largest firms were found in London, close to all their high-profile clients who were probably also based there. But nowadays, not only are these clients starting to move operations north of Watford – the BBC’s creation of MediaCity in Salford is a great example of this – but the advent of new technology means that it does not really matter where in the country – or even where in the world – you are compared to your clients. The coronavirus lockdown has meant that law firms and other businesses have had a more flexible working culture inflicted on them at short notice, which has proved that remote working can be done. The investments made in this technology will continue to benefit firms even after we return to (a new) normality. All of this makes it harder to justify the astronomical property prices (both for firms and employees), tough hours and more-than-a-little-busy commute also boasted by the City. The erosion of the higher salary offered by the equally higher cost of living is also worth considering.

The truth of the matter is this – London is great, in many ways. But you should not feel pressured to work there simply because of the name. Throughout the rest of this series, I will spotlight various different places in the UK that are growing legal hubs in their own right, and explain why you should consider applying to firms in these areas. The merits of London often go unsaid, being considered implicit in the name; now is the time to consider the merits of other places too.