Why Surrey, Sussex and Kent are attracting city lawyers

A better work-life balance is pulling legal talent into Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

For much of the last year, the City of London has been eerily quiet. But now the world is starting to return to normal, has working in London lost its appeal?

Some have missed the buzz of the capital and are relishing the big return. Others have enjoyed escaping the rat race. They have no desire to go back to the long days and painful journeys on the train or tube. There has to be a better way of working.

Law firms in the regions are flourishing and they are attracting City lawyers who crave a better work/life balance.

Why City lawyers look to move

Covid is just the latest challenge faced by the City of London. The Square Mile has already been heavily impacted by Brexit, and, after experiencing working at home, many employees are demanding hybrid or flexible working. The desire to avoid the city commute is spreading across the board, including within the legal sector.

Back in 2019, I published a blog outlining the 5 main reasons why city lawyers are heading for the South-East regions. Since then the exodus has accelerated.

Many successful law firms can be found across the Home Counties, and there are many towns and smaller cities which can boast a thriving legal economy. In all likelihood, these legal hubs will thrive and grow even stronger.

Here are some of the leading South East locations for law firms – and why they are attracting solicitors looking for a better life balance…

Tunbridge Wells & Sevenoaks

Tunbridge Wells (or Royal Tunbridge Wells to be more accurate) is a magnet for Londoners looking to find a slower pace of life without moving to a remote village.

At the heart of Tunbridge Wells is The Pantiles, a stunning Georgian pedestrian colonnade of  boutique shops and houses. It is a thriving hub of activity in the summer with a cafe culture and live music from its traditional bandstand.

It is a great place for families with excellent schools in the town, including three grammar schools: Skinners for Boys, Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar and Tunbridge Wells Grammar for Boys.

The town is situated on the edge of a High Weald area of outstanding natural beauty, and Sevenoaks enjoys a similarly stunning location.

The Evening Standard wrote of Sevenoaks: “There can’t be many towns where you can walk straight off the high street to find yourself in a 1,000-acre medieval deer park with access to one of the greatest houses in England, Knole, for more than 400 years home to the Sackville family.”

It is the mix of a thriving town and picturesque countryside which has made Sevenoaks a popular bolthole for fed-up Londoners.

Legal firms in Tunbridge Wells & Sevenoaks
  • Cripps operates from Tunbridge Wells and has a London office in Victoria. With over 450 people at the firm, it provides a full range of legal advice for both businesses and individuals. Their practices are ranked #1 25 times in the latest editions of the leading legal directories of Chambers UK, Chambers High Net Worth and the UK Legal 500. Cripps is nationally recognised for its Real Estate, Family and Private Wealth expertise and the quality of the work is on par with that of a City firm, and they attract and continue to attract many City lawyers.
  • Thomson Snell & Passmore. The oldest law firm in operation in the world (the company’s roots date back to 1570 and they are even in the Guinness Book of Records!), it prides itself on taking a pragmatic and common sense approach. Having recently moved into their impressive new open plans offices a 2 minute walk from Tunbridge Wells train station. They boast a phenomenal Private Client department (which includes a nationally leading Court of Protection team), and highly successful Commercial Property Corporate and Commercial, Dispute Resolution and Family Departments. 30 of the specialist practice areas are ranked by the leading independent guides to UK law firms.

Guildford has pretty much everything you could need in a town: a university – including one of the University of Law campuses – a cathedral, a castle, theatres, an annual festival, countless restaurants and a plethora of independent shops. The only surprise is that it has yet to be classified as a city.

Set on the River Wey and famous for the 17th Century clock, which is a familiar landmark in the historic high street, Guildford has a thriving cultural scene. The town is particularly proud of its Shakespeare Company which works tirelessly to promote the arts in the town.

It is no surprise that the town is often selected as one of the best places to live in the South East.

Legal firms in Guildford
  • DMH Stallard is a full-service, award-winning law firm with offices in Brighton, Gatwick, Horsham, Guildford and London. The firm has a proud history of winning awards and retaining high rankings in independently researched legal directories. DMH Stallard is ranked in the top 2% of law firms by The Times (Best Law Firms 2021). In 2020, the firm was named Property Law Firm of the Year (Insider South East Property Awards), and won both Law Firm of the Year and Deal of the Year over 10m (Insider South East Dealmakers Awards).
  • Stevens & Bolton boasts 150 lawyers, approximately a third of them partners, many of whom chose to join from City law firms. The clients are major international organisations, UK FTSE companies, owner-managed businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals. Featured in The Times Best Law Firms 2021 listing, the firm was chosen as the 2020 Law Firm of the Year: the Independents at The Lawyer Awards. In 2021, Stevens & Bolton was shortlisted for Law Firm of the Year (UK-wide) at the Citywealth Magic Circle Awards.
Crawley / Gatwick

Crawley hasn’t always been viewed as one of the most fashionable towns in the South East, though it has produced some of the UK’s finest comedians, Romesh Ranganathan, and, of course, Gareth Southgate! Crawley benefits from being a mere 35-minute drive to the cool beachside city of Brighton & Hove.

What Crawley can boast is a thriving and important business scene. Crawley’s Manor Royal is the largest business district in South East England covering 240 hectares, and is home to more than 500 businesses. Many of the businesses are well-known blue-chip multinationals.

The reason that Crawley is such a vital business centre is, of course, is the proximity to Gatwick Airport, making it an international hub. Crawley sits at the heart of the influential Gatwick Diamond Business community.

Legal firms in Gatwick & Crawley
  • Irwin Mitchell has 15 UK locations. Founded in 1912, the firm has established an incredible reputation in the Personal Injury and Medical Negligence fields. The Crawley office came about following its acquisition of Thomas Eggar – Irwin Mitchell was keen as a firm to diversify its practice areas – the Crawley office largely focuses on Private Client, Real Estate (including Construction and Planning), Corporate and Commercial. Irwin Mitchell has now become the largest full-service law firm in the UK with leading private client and business legal departments. In 2019, the firm achieved Superbrand status, alongside international heavyweights as varied as British Airways, eBay, and LEGO.
  • DMH Stallard See profile in Guildford section.

If you are considering a move to the beautiful South East and are potentially, along with so many lawyers out there, in the throws of negotiating your future work pattern with your City-based firm, why not contact me? I am always free for a confidential chat to see what job the regional firms may be able to offer you in terms of a hybrid working model / quality of work / salary package etc.

Hayley Rose is an Associate Director in the Legal Division at Harvey John.

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