Commercial law outside London: meet two lawyers who chose this path

A DLA Piper partner and trainee talk about their working lives beyond the capital
Where to work

DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world but places huge emphasis on its regional presence.

We spoke to two of its lawyers - one senior, one junior - to find out more.

The partner: Sarah Day, Managing Partner, Leeds office

Twenty years ago when Sarah Day was deciding where to start her career, her choices were limited geographically. "London swallowed up most of the law graduates," she tells The Gateway, "but I made a lifestyle choice.'

'I wanted to do good quality, big-ticket, commercial law, but I didn't want to do it in London. Back then, there were only a couple of other cities to choose from and I went for Leeds."

DLA Piper's Leeds office is the second biggest in its global network, and the work that comes through it is varied and often high value.

"About 50 per cent of our clients are local and 50 per cent are national or international," says Sarah. "For some clients - Barclays, for instance - we work on all three levels."

But why would a client engage with DLA Piper on a regional basis when they have a central office in London?

Sarah explains: "Relationships are a big reason. One of the partners in this office may have an established relationship with an Australian or French client who will choose to work with the partner in Leeds if they have a UK requirement."

"A client may also be looking for particular expertise that we have in a regional office but not in London. Another reason is that regional fees are typically a lot lower than they are in London, though we sell on quality, not price."

DLA Piper's regional offices may also have extensive experience of working with clients in an industry important to their region, which results in these clients using the relevant regional office rather than going to London. DLA Piper's office in Leeds, for instance, has a host of clients in the prominent local financial services, biotech and life sciences industries.

Sarah explains how this kind of regional expertise can also attract clients from further afield: "Because of our locale and the clients we deal with in Leeds, we've managed to broker strong links with the west coast of the US, which is another big hub for technology and life sciences. But no matter what region you're based in, you won't be limited to working in any one single industry."

DLA Piper's strong regional offices are a particular advantage for clients based in the same areas. "It makes a real difference to them," says Sarah. "I can't count the number of times in which being able to get someone in a cab to speak to a local client has helped seal a deal. And in banking law, in which I specialise, clients involved in a big finance deal in Leeds, Manchester or Birmingham want to instruct lawyers in the same area."

Sarah spends one day a week working in London and, having come through the regional training system, can see the difference in the work trainees in London and the regions do.

"As a trainee in London," she explains, "you might see more noughts on the deals you're working on, but in the regions, you'll likely see more of the actual deal. And it's not the case that we only do small deals here. We did a billion pound financing in Leeds last year - and trainees played a big part in it."

The trainee: Alastair Carruthers, Manchester office

When Stockport-born Alastair finished his LPC (legal practice course), he wanted to join a firm in the Greater Manchester area. As an ambitious young lawyer, though, he also wanted the opportunity to work on large, commercial deals.

After partaking in a summer scheme in DLA Piper's Manchester office, he was offered a training contract and, having gained an insight into the firm during his placement, the decision was easy. Before starting his training contract, Alastair paralegalled for DLA Piper in the Leeds office for a year, learning more about the firm.

"DLA Piper offers the full complement of legal services, which means I'm not missing out on anything I could do down in London. My friends and family are all here, and I love Manchester."

Alastair's first seat was in Projects and he's currently doing his second in Finance. "The quality of the work in the region is very high," he says. "We have a large range of clients, from multinationals like Santander, to local ones like Halton Borough Council - and I find that I'm a lot more involved on deals than I might be in a larger office."

He goes on to talk about a piece of work he did early on in his time in Projects that will have an impact on his local area for many years to come.

"I worked on the Mersey Gateway project," he explains, "on the building of a six-lane toll bridge between Widnes and Runcorn. It's not often we have projects of that magnitude in the area and to be involved in it was fantastic.

"I helped draft the project agreement, which involved meeting the client to find out about their requirements, looking into how such documents had been formulated for similar projects, and tailoring the project agreement to the client's demands. To be able to do that six weeks into my training contract was great."

DLA Piper has seven regional offices and with that comes extensive networking and social opportunities. The trainees in Glasgow and Edinburgh invited their peers across the country to attend a Burns' Night event in Scotland, those in London will be holding an event to mark the Queen's Jubilee, and the Leeds and Sheffield offices have recently been in touch with Alastair to invite him to a "northern social".

But Alastair wouldn't want to live anywhere else. "I'm a Stockport County fan," he says "so the recent footballing success in Manchester has been personally quite hard to take, but the city has been reenergised. The nightlife is great and even though I live just outside Manchester, I can cycle to work in 20 minutes which is certainly a perk of working in the area!"