Research shows the growth of Leeds’ legal sector to have outpaced London, Manchester and Birmingham in recent years, recalling the city’s glory days in the pre-financial crisis era. For one of Leeds’ biggest firms, Walker Morris, the wider expansion of the local market has coincided with the implementation of a strategy that is seeing it move almost entirely away from commoditised areas such as personal injury towards corporate and commercial work.
A brand-new office, which Walker Morris moved into last year, ties in with the strategy. The “delightful” building, found at the heart of Leeds’ business district, includes “beautiful” communal spaces, swish meeting pods, an in-house Ts&Cs café, and a scenic outside courtyard area – making it a huge improvement on the firm’s “slightly tired” former gaffe.
Still, the realignment has not been without cost as previous reports indicate that the firm’s revenues dipped slightly from £42 million to £41.5 million and profit per equity partner fell slightly to £392,000. But the firm bounced back last year with its first major revenue rise after a flat decade. The firm has since made hefty cost-cutting measures in response to the COVID-19 downturn, deferring partner profit distributions and NQ salary hikes until later this year.
The quality of work is some of the best you’ll get in the regions. “It is a very faced paced environment, its good to be an important cog in the wheel here at Walker Morris,” a trainee tells us. Expect lots of responsibility and exposure to a wide variety of deals and cases, alongside staple trainee tasks “that cannot be justified being done by someone with a higher chargeout rate”.
The training, meanwhile, is solid, with a mixture of “very active and involved supervision”. At the same time, “you aren’t walked through every little thing that you do.” Another trainee adds: “They trust you to utilise common sense.” An open-door policy and mostly approachable partners, some of whom “you can discuss Love Island with”, mean it’s easy to ask for help.
Client secondments supplement the learning; according to our figures, around a third of the firm’s rookies have done one, with Asda, Jet2 and energy company Drax all popular destinations.
Lawyers work hard here, with an average arrival time of 8:30am and an average leave time of before 7pm meaning that before COVID-19 they were in the office for more than ten hours most days. Late nights rarely go beyond 9pm and weekend work is rare. According to one trainee, work-life balance has even improved following the pandemic as remote-working lawyers can avoid the office commute. We are told that real estate “provides a quite steady 8:30 to 6:30pm”, whereas in corporate “hours are much more unpredictable and often longer.” One insider describes it like this: “Generally quite good, although expected to make some sacrifices if there is an impending deadline (as is the norm). However, there is an expectation within the team that you are available on weekends/annual leave/bank holidays. I was on annual leave although the partner was directing clients to call me without even checking I was available.”
Another rookie adds: “Most days I can probably work 8am to 6pm and no-one would bat an eyelid. In fact they’d all already be gone. I have been in the office trial bundling until 1:30am but it was a one-off. Most weeks I need to stay for one evening until 7 or 8pm and/or work for a few hours at the weekend but it’s manageable. The partners tend to comment if you stay late, so it is noticed and not expected. They do, however, expect some fee earners to work at home and if you get into the habit of it, it becomes difficult to break.”
Mitigating the hours are some decent pay levels, which are among the highest in the Leeds market, as well as good perks. These include a subscription to ‘Perkbox’, which gifts employees things like free Caffe Nero coffees and Patisserie Valerie cakes, “excellent” charity events such as quizzes, rounders and dress down days. Following the lockdown Walker Morris also covered the costs of buying computer monitors for home-working lawyers, and even delivers essential IT equipment when necessary.
In normal times, respondents champion “great” firm-arranged social events for trainees, vacation scheme students and future trainees “which allow everyone to get to know each other a bit more personally and really contributes to the friendly nature of the firm.” Indeed, the social life at the firm has quite a reputation. “I have no doubt our social committee is the best around,” one trainee tells us, while another notes: “Helps that we all enjoy a bevvy”.