Partner at Baines Wilson, Cumbria
Following various work experience placements undertaken while still at school, I knew that I wanted to have a legal career. So, while I read English literature at university, on graduation I enrolled on the two-year law conversion course, at the end of which I started my training contract with Travers Smith.
My six-month seat in the corporate department was by far and away the most enjoyable part of my articles. On qualification I moved into the firm’s corporate finance department, where I stayed for a number of years before joining the London office of US firm Kaye Scholer LLP (now Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP).
Although we both enjoyed our London careers, my husband and I increasingly wanted to address the work/family life imbalance. We decided to move the family north to Cumbria, principally for my husband to set up a holiday cottage business.
Whether city or regional, both types of firms are service providers and clients won’t use us again if we are not offering a high level of expertise
If I am honest, when I left London I thought I was probably leaving my career behind. But I completely underestimated the demand that exists in this part of the world for corporate legal advice. It was only once we were living in Cumbria that it became apparent how much business activity there is in this area. And I was delighted to be offered a position in the corporate/commercial department of Baines Wilson LLP. The opportunities that have arisen in working for a regional firm have been a welcome surprise.
Cumbria and Lancashire have thriving and active business communities. As a corporate lawyer, although the average deal size may be smaller, in terms of deal flow and range of transactions there is plenty going on.
One of the challenges we face is to persuade more young lawyers to consider pursuing a career in a regional commercial firm. There is a common misconception that they will only get the breadth of experience with a big City practice. Many of our lawyers have years of experience (often with City backgrounds). The reality is that you will normally get much more hands-on experience in a regional firm because at any one time you are likely to be advising on a diverse range of matters, and to be more heavily involved in all aspects of individual transactions. An advantage of working in a smaller office environment is that you know everyone personally, which also helps to enhance a spirit of collaboration and teamwork.
I think the idea that there are significant differences in culture between City and regional firms is more of a myth than a reality. Whether City or regional, both types of firms are service providers and market forces mean that clients are simply not going to thank us (or use us again) if we are not offering a high level of expertise, or providing first-class legal advice. And this is important when working in a small business community – reputation matters just as much as when working for a big City firm. Perhaps more so.
There is one difference between a City and regional firm in respect of delivering service. The hours and timetables at a regional firm tend to be more conducive to maintaining a sensible work/life balance.
The majority of our clients are based in the north-west, though we do act for clients throughout the UK as well as for some large international businesses. Many of our clients own and manage their own businesses and value the ability to build close and long-term relationships with professional advisers who are based locally. We are also very focused on the areas of law that are core to our main client base.
In our experience, historically, larger businesses were often wedded to City firms. But increasingly, we are seeing a willingness for such businesses to use regional firms, finding that they can get the same quality of service at a more competitive price. Lower overheads enable savings to be passed on to clients.
In my experience, most people have a vague idea of what a corporate/commercial lawyer does. In terms of social reactions, I would say people are mostly interested, generally polite, and sometimes disappointed on hearing that it is less glamorous or scandalous than portrayed on certain TV shows.