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Sheffield bids to wrestle corporate law northshoring crown from Manchester

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Council big wigs offer cash incentives to get a piece of the outsourcing action

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Sheffield Council is considering a series of cash saving incentives to lure top corporate law firms away London in favour of the relative tranquillity of South Yorkshire, it has emerged.

In what is believed to be a first for an English city, the carrot being dangled by Sheffield councillors emulates similar schemes adopted by policy makers in Belfast.

According to the Law Society’s Gazette, a number of incentives will be up for grabs if City firms choose to relocate, including investment funding, business rate relief and recruitment consultancy support. With a war chest of £3 million to spend over the coming year, the council has set up a separate consultancy arm called Creative Sheffield, which will oversee operations.

With a host of top corporate firms already punting for Manchester as the location of their low value operations, it’s clear council leaders are hoping to muscle in on their neighbour’s success.

Back in 2015, magic circle player Freshfields confirmed it was to open an office in Manchester, specialising in basic legal work. The venture up north has been such a success for the firm that it confirmed plans to double the size of its northern operation, relocating to a new 80,000 sq ft office space by 2017 (pictured below).

Fresh

Other firms which have a presence in Manchester include City outfit Berwin Leighton Paisner, US giant Latham & Watkins, national player Nabarro, northern powerhouse Addleshaw Goddard and fast-growing DWF.

Meanwhile, back in 2011, magic circle firm Allen & Overy and global giant Herbert Smith Freehills opted for Belfast as the location for their northshoring operations. Already employing over 380 people in Northern Ireland’s capital, Allen & Overy has promised to create a further 100 new roles — including paralegal positions — thanks to a cash boost of over £860,000 chucked its way by the local government.

Other big law firms which have made the move — on a slightly smaller scale — include silver circle outfit Ashurst, which set up shop in Glasgow, and transatlantic player Hogan Lovells, which created a Birmingham outpost in 2014.

According to today’s report, Sheffield councillors have approached leaders at the top 100 firms in the City of London in the hope of enticing them away from the glitz and glamour of the capital. Apparently one “London-based firm” has already been “offered” a year’s free rent, if they are willing to sign up to a five-year lease.

If the mystery firm does decide to take up the offer, it will be in good company. Personal injury giant Irwin Mitchell is currently headquartered in Sheffield, and both Nabarro and DLA Piper have a major presence in the Yorkshire city.

Trumpeting the scheme, councillor Leigh Bramall, deputy leader of Sheffield City Council, emphasised the quality of graduates produced by the region:

By attracting more legal services firms to Sheffield and creating jobs and importantly career opportunities, we can attract and retain the talent in the city. Sheffield has two world class universities and 21,000 graduates enrol here each year. We undoubtedly have an amazing lifestyle offer for people who love big city life and the great outdoors, and this is something we are seeing as key in the decision-making process of firms looking to relocate outside of London.

And if the financial and professional incentives aren’t enough, surely an in-house 85ft helter skelter will persuade some City partners to make the leap. Sheffield’s ultra-hip Electric Works office space — that was until recently home to IP specialists Withers & Rogers — has its very own indoor slide that allows lawyers to reach the lobby in style.