Showcasing a region: Newcastle is a growing hub of increasingly diverse legal services – and opportunities for solicitors

Several top-class universities churning out future lawyers; international firms rushing to expand; and a stream of new offices opening this year. Newcastle upon Tyne and the north-east have a legal sector that is growing quickly.

An area which tended to specialise in a few sectors and boasted well-run local firms has experienced huge change in the last decade, with the enduring quality of life in the north-east now being matched by a broader range of work offered by an expanding number of providers.

In 2022, Clifford Chance signed a new 10-year lease for 15,000ft2 of office space in one of Newcastle city centre’s newest buildings. Earlier this year, it was reported that Norton Rose’s presence in the city had grown from four people to more than 350. The global firm had initially opened a legal processing hub in 2016, but now has 10 teams in the city and has expanded its Quayside offices.

Knights, Sintons and Burnetts have announced plans in recent months for office openings or refurbishments in Newcastle, while established firms such as Womble Bond Dickinson and Ward Hadaway remain big presences in the region. The Winn Group, based in the Byker district, has expanded to 630 staff and continues to grow.

‘Newcastle has a very impressive legal sector, with a full offering of practice disciplines and specialisms,’ said Matthew Tomlinson, dean of the University of Law’s Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds campuses.

‘While there are numerous big north-east firms that have been born out of Newcastle, what is interesting is that there has been a steady stream of international and national firms that have expanded into the city in the past few years. For students looking to train in Newcastle, the diversity of opportunity is very attractive; there are the big corporates, the niche practices, a variety of in-house and an abundance of high street opportunities.’

The impact of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis have driven many who might once have sought to move to London, Leeds or Manchester to consider staying put. This includes graduates of the universities based on Tyneside and Wearside.

Tomlinson said the number of high-quality law graduates in the region prompted the University of Law to set up a satellite campus with Newcastle University in 2020. With junior lawyers open to working outside London, and the new opportunities offered by big firms, there has been a perfect synergy.

‘The common perception that the best training opportunities could only be found in London is changing and we are seeing a notable trend from students looking to start their legal careers outside the capital,’ added Tomlinson. ‘What sits behind this is a shift in the mentality of this next generation of aspiring lawyers who now are placing much more importance on finding a work/life balance. This includes being part of firm that aligns with their own values that they can “belong” to, and also the reality that with the current cost of living, training in a city where rental costs and housing prices are more affordable is a significant consideration.’

Nigel Emmerson, recently installed as president of Newcastle upon Tyne Law Society, says there is growing optimism in the region as a whole. Saudi Arabia’s investment in Newcastle United has contributed to a revitalised city centre, a new devolution deal is bringing in significant funds, and the region is establishing new specialisms in sectors such as digital, clean energy and life sciences.

‘All this creates great opportunities,’ said Emmerson. ‘The north-east has a vibrant and diverse legal sector, with many talented and innovative lawyers and firms. We want to showcase the excellence and expertise of our region and attract more investment, talent and opportunities.’

Chris Hook, a partner with Newcastle firm Muckle, trained at a City firm but moved to the north-east 12 years ago to be near family. ‘I was also attracted by the lower housing costs, shorter commute, and easy access to the picturesque coast and countryside – but with the cultural attractions and buzz of a city,’ he said. ‘As a charity and education solicitor, I have continued to do interesting legal work comparable to what I had been doing in London. And I think the quality of legal work on offer for lawyers in Newcastle has only increased since then.’

‘Lawyers in Newcastle have always had a great quality of life,’ concluded Emmerson. ‘It is a fantastic place to live. The opportunities which are now being produced are also resulting in an increase in the quality and quantity of legal work.’


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