The cities of Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester are pulling away from the rest of England and Wales as in-demand centres for legal services offices outside London.

Research from commercial property firm CBRE says that Bristol (pictured) is now the most popular regional legal centre in the UK, with law firms taking up 874,321 sq ft of floorspace in the city. 

Birmingham (781,893 sq ft) and Manchester (774,922 sq ft) come further behind, with a big gap then to Leeds, which has 486,467 sq ft dedicated to law firms.

Edinburgh, Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff, Nottingham and Newcastle make up the rest of the top 10.

The research, based on law firm interviews and a sector benchmarking study, found law firms are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to real estate, resulting in a huge variety of space requirements in different UK cities.

James McLean, senior director of the CBRE UK tenant advisory group, said firms are undergoing a period of rapid evolution and transformation, fuelled by rising demand for legal services, increased pressure on fees and intensifying competition from innovative competitors. 

‘We are seeing a dual focus on cost control and selective investment to drive future business expansion,’ he added. ‘This has led to a wave of legal office moves or expansions in the UK regional cities, often drawn by opportunities to take high quality, cost effective office space - operating at a substantial discount to London.’

While Bristol devotes the most office space to law firms, Manchester has the widest representation of firms in the top 100, hosting 42 practices in total.

The three stand-out cities are developing into leaders for their wider region, whereas the legal market in the south east, outside of London, is scattered across several towns and cities.

Whereas typical commercial property rates are £68.50 per sq ft in the City of London, the report found prices are less than half that in Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester.

Average rent per fee earner per year is £6,947 in Cardiff – the cheapest major city in the UK by this measure.

CBRE said particular office space take-up ‘hot spots’ recently have been Manchester, Leeds and Belfast. Noteworthy deals in Manchester include 100,000 sq ft acquired by Slater & Gordon and 44,800 sq ft by DLA Piper.

In Leeds, Addleshaw Goddard Limited acquired 51,500 sq ft, Squire Patton Boggs, 33,000 sq ft and DAC Beachcroft 25,000 sq ft; whilst in Belfast, Baker & McKenzie has moved into new offices last year (28,000 sq ft), following in the footsteps of Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills.