The Legal Cheek View
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 continued expansion of the local market has coincided with the implementation of a strategy that has seen it move almost entirely away from commoditised areas such as personal injury towards high-level corporate and commercial work.
A sleek office, which Walker Morris moved into in the summer of 2019, ties in with this strategy. The “delightful” building, found at the heart of Leeds’ business district and “probably the best” in the city, 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.
And the firm’s latest set of financial results show the realignment is starting to pay off. Revenue rose 10% from £55.2 million to £60.7 million while profit per equity partner dipped slightly to £742,000 following an especially large cohort of new partners — a sign of the firm’s ambitions. The firm has also upped its annual trainee intake from 16 to 20 with managing partner Malcolm Simpson targeting revenues of £70 million by 2024.
The quality of work is some of the best you’ll get in the regions. “It’s a very fast-paced environment, it’s 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 charge out rate”. Another insider warns the quality can “vary from seat to seat”, recalling how in one team they were rarely tasked with “chargeable work with a lot of the work being research based for the team’s own knowledge rather than tasks which actually assist our clients” while in another they were “given a lot of responsibility early on”. Another source quips: “Really not too much donkey work.”
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. Another insider tells us it “can be a bit hit and miss in different departments, with some teams “right on it” and “others not so much”.
Client secondments supplement the learning; according to our figures, around a third of the firm’s rookies have done one with Asda and energy company Drax being popular destinations.
Hours are somewhat of a mixed bag. Late nights rarely go beyond 9pm and weekend work is rare. We are told that real estate “provides a quite steady 8:30pm to 6:30pm”, whereas in corporate — where it has been a “super busy year” — the “hours are much more unpredictable and often longer”. One insider describes it like this: “I have had times in my Corporate seat where you find yourself working until 2.30am on the Friday night and into Saturday/Sunday. However, you know that everyone else working on the deal is going through the same thing so you don’t feel quite so isolated (free food is always welcomed). In quieter times you can find yourself logging off ay 5/5.30pm and heading to the gym/pub.”
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 7pm 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. A newly qualified associate currently earns a salary of £60,000, while trainees recently saw pay move to £28,000 and £31,000 respectively.
The perks are said to be good too. These include a solicitor sabbatical scheme, Help@Hand, gym discounts, “excellent” charity events such as quizzes, rounders and dress down days, as well as the option to “buy extra weeks leave” and a salary sacrifice scheme for electric vehicles. As part of a long-term agile working policy, one insider tells us, “many departments allow you to work from home 2/3 days a week” and the firm provided an allowance of £300 to purchase monitors, desks and chairs in order to “aid our working from home set up”.