Law firms flock to the West Country as Bristol is declared biggest legal centre after London

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By Katie King on

Is surfing helping to give law firms the Bristol bug?


Want to bag a training contract, but don’t fancy moving house?

It’s no longer the City of London or bust: the rise of the regional firm means that wannabe lawyers don’t have to up and leave their hometowns, with Bristol leading the way as the new centre for law firms outside the capital.

New research by real estate services firm CBRE into the distribution of lawyers across the country has revealed that, outside London, Bristol is — in terms of floor space anyway — the biggest legal centre in the UK.

The southwestern city boasts 874,321 square feet of law firm floor space, with Birmingham (781,893 square feet) and Manchester (774,922 square feet) trailing behind it. Next in line is Leeds, followed by Edinburgh, Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff, Nottingham and then Newcastle.

And it’s no wonder law firms and budding lawyers are being drawn in their swathes to Bristol. Aside from the fact that rent per square foot is less than half than the City of London rate, the city has a lot going for it: the Banksys, the beautiful Clifton Suspension bridge, the infamous Lizard Lounge nightclub.

And surfing. No, not surfing the internet — though Bristol does apparently have very stellar broadband – but surfing waves.

Bristol is an easy drive away from some of Britain’s best surfing beaches — Croyde and Saunton in north Devon, and Porthcawl’s Rest Bay in south Wales. Law firms in the city know this: way back in January 2005, regional outfit Burges Salmon ran an ad featuring solicitor Mark Shepherd clad in a wetsuit and manhandling a surfboard onto the roof of a car. As media lawyer and writer Alex Wade put it in his book Surf Nation:

The message is unambiguous: Burges Salmon offers smart young professionals a better, healthier life than the metropolis, one whose trappings include gleaming black cars and surfboards in equal measure.

Shepherd is now a partner. In his wake, have scores of young lawyers traded London for the chance to get to the coast after work (well, in summer at least) and ride waves?