Real Estate Law in Manchester – Market Overview and thoughts on attracting and retaining talent

18 Sep, 2017

Real Estate Law in Manchester – Market Overview and thoughts on attracting and retaining talent

Real Estate Law in Manchester – Market Overview and thoughts on attracting and retaining talent

I specialise in recruitment into this market in Manchester and thought it would be beneficial to provide a market update for Autumn 2017.

2017 has so far continued much like previous years – most legal teams are looking to recruit and tend to bemoan the lack of available talent, particularly in the key 2-6 year PQE demographic. I thought I’d look into this in a little more depth and look at the reasons behind this ongoing talent squeeze and what firms can do to combat this.

So pretty much every real estate team has been looking to grow or maintain headcount in 2017 despite initial post Brexit concerns at the back end of last year. Why is this? Well, firstly we continue to see the impact of new entrants into the Manchester market. In many ways, the last year has seen the maturation and consolidation of teams at BLP, growth at Nabarro (now CMS), TLT, Browne Jacobson, Mills and Reeve and Shoosmiths amongst others.

The significance of growth within real estate at these practices is that all have arrived in Manchester since the Great Recession and since 2008 we have seen a fairly steady decline in the number of trainees that firms have engaged in Manchester. We probably have more real estate teams in Manchester (despite mid-market consolidation) than at any time since 2008 and at the same time firms have been making fewer lawyers.

Now there are a few other reasons for this. Real Estate teams have significantly more paralegals compared to ten years ago and securing a training contract via this route is now much more common. Firms have been consistently trying to develop alternatives to the costly trainee process, attempting to provide viable career paths for those who wish to remain paralegals. Even so, we simply don’t have enough qualified real estate lawyers for the demand that sits in the market.

This has been exacerbated by the anecdotal evidence we have seen which shows increasing flows of work heading North from London offices to be done in Manchester at different pricing structures. Clients, unsurprisingly, love this and it is a trend which we believe will continue. Allied to this, Manchester as a city continues to thrive, with a take up of office space which far out strips any UK city outside of London. With plenty of new real estate developments on the horizon this growth shows few signs of abating.

So how are firms tackling this shortage? Predictably salaries are on the rise. While it may surprise some we have seen evidence of 3 year PQE real estate lawyers achieving £50k basic salaries and those at 5 years reaching £60k. Firms are doing their best to protect the assets they have with bumper pay reviews and significant counter offers for those associates seeking a move. All of this has created an exceptionally tight market which paradoxically rarely makes money the determining factor.

Junior real estate lawyers, from what we see, are motivated slightly differently than their predecessors. Few admit to seeing Partnership as a long term goal and are more pragmatic about their career aspirations. They continue to be motivated by feeling valued and valuable. While moving work North may work for law firms and their clients, there is a challenge around making sure that those lawyers in Manchester carrying out the work feel like they are part of more than a Northern back office. They want to engage with clients and work in a culture where they feel comfortable leaving the office at 5pm if and when required.

I know some are sceptical about junior lawyers being motivated by a flexible working culture. I engage with real estate lawyers on a daily basis and it is by far the most common important factor when considering a move. To me, it is the logical extension of lawyers accepting that they won’t reach the goal of partnership. If traditional career progression is not something you are aspiring to then what motivation would one have for working until 10pm most week nights?

In my view, in such a tight market firms must respond to these factors by offering the following:

  • Competitive pay and accepting that a premium may be required to bring talent in
  • A positive working culture, which nurtures, trains and supports its talent
  • Resourcing teams properly to avoid associates being overburdened
  • Taking steps to ensure that London work is still properly supervised locally, and lawyers are given the chance to develop links with clients
  • A flexible working culture which truly encourages associates to have an active and rewarding life outside of the office.

I know some teams are offering the above. Despite this, I think more can be done generally to engage with junior real estate lawyers both to attract and retain talent in a candidate short market.

If you would like a confidential discussion please contact Joe Gregory for further details –