South West Legal Market Insights

South West Legal Market Insights

Our Managing Consultant for the South West Legal Division shares his analysis of market data and insights for the region…

“Bristol remains the premium location for legal professionals outside of London. Increasingly viewed as progressive, capable of offering good quality work and the highest pay rates amongst the regions, it’s perhaps no surprise that Bristol-based legal professionals are among the most content amongst their peers in the UK. This has ensured relatively low attrition rates at a time when hiring demand from the Bristol-based legal firms continues to surge.

The Southwest region offers the potential of a lifestyle that few other regions can offer. From the buzz of Bristol to the countryside surrounding Exeter, to the world-class beaches in close proximity to Truro. The increased potential to work from home has ensured that location has never been of greater importance when considering a career move.”


Regional vs National Overview

Number of professionals Growth (YOY) Changed Jobs (YOY) Gender Split % (Female/Male) Median Tenure Live Jobs Demand Ratio
United Kingdom 95839 3% 13% 58/42 2.6 Years 6138 6.4%
South West 8453 3% 12% 63/37 2.8 Years 761 9%

When comparing the Southwest legal professionals’ market within the UK as a whole, we can see that 9% of the UK’s legal professionals work in the Southwest region and South Wales and, although growth has been consistent across the last year, compared to the rest of the country there is a decidedly increased demand, with 12% of current UK legal vacancies being based in the Southwest region.

On top of the increased demand for candidates in the Southwest, we are also seeing slightly lower than average levels of movement in the market, leading to longer tenure in legal roles. While the change in growth for legal professionals year on year is the same for both the UK and Southwest, the percentage change of jobs year on year is slightly higher overall in the UK than in the Southwest, as is median tenure. This is leading to longer tenure in legal roles and could indicate a slightly higher level of stability and job loyalty in the Southwest compared with the UK as a whole

Moreover, when it comes to remuneration, Bristol remains right at the top of the highest paying cities for legal professionals, ranking 2nd after London for Lawyers and 3rd for solicitors.

Salary Benchmarking

Insights around pay rates for Newly Qualified lawyers recently published by The Lawyer (updated 3rd August) provide valuable insight into the rates of pay that solicitors at both NQ level and above can expect when working in the region. At the top of the leaderboard, Burges Salmon LLP of Bristol lead with an NQ rate of £60,000.

Read the full list of salaries compiled by The Lawyer here.


infographic showing the salaries of new qualified lawyers in the south west


Bristol remains the top location for legal employment and has the highest number of current job vacancies, however, Cardiff and Exeter are both seeing a higher rate of growth in the last year. Exeter and Cheltenham are both seeing more demand than Bristol and Cardiff, with Exeter looking to have higher percentage growth than another city in the region in the next 6 months and Cheltenham hoping to reverse it year on year decrease in professions with increased hiring.

Growth has been seen in locations such as Liskeard (29%), and Saltash (59%), as well as multiple locations in South Wales. Landlocked towns such as Aldershot, Shepton Mallet, and Tavistock have all seen a significant decrease of over 8% of legal professionals. This could suggest a move towards the higher salaries and career opportunities of cities or a draw to the work-life balance offered by coastal towns.

Professionals YOY change Jobs Demand Ratio
Bristol 1842 2% 182 10%
Cardiff 1448 5% 45 3%
Exeter 502 4% 79 16%
Cheltenham 318 -2% 39 12%
Bath 241 2% 25 10%


Gender, Positions, and Seniority

The legal profession, in general, appears to be weighted more toward females; the data shows that 58% of legal professionals in general within the UK are female. In the Southwest overall, this is higher than the national average, sitting at 63%, and at every level of the profession from Leadership positions down the pre-qualification, there are more women than men. However, it is worth noting that, as the seniority of roles increases, the degree of domination decreases: at the pre-qualification level the makeup is 80% female, but at the leadership level this decreases to 51%, making it more of an even split.

There has been an increase of professionals entering the sector at all levels, but this data really highlights the lack of new graduates at pre-qualification levels which is likely to cause significant issues in the future as there is no talent pipeline. Equally, junior lawyers are the most likely to change jobs and spend the least time in the role, possibly as a result of the increased importance of their priorities outside of work, or another possible theory is that they are looking for more career progression than their senior counterparts. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that, in the current candidate short market, lawyers at the junior level are the most in-demand. It is safe to assume that candidates at this level are being frequently approached about the many opportunities on the market and are likely being tempted by inflated salaries and enhanced benefits. It is, therefore, more important than ever that firms prioritise retention and reassess their offering regularly to ensure it remains competitive.

Number of professionals Growth (YOY) Changed Jobs (YOY) Gender Split % (Female/Male) Median Tenure Live Jobs Demand Ratio
South West 8453 3% 12% 63/37 2.8 Years 761 9%
Leadership Positions 277 10% 8% 51/49 4.8 Years 4 1.4%
Senior Lawyer 99 18% 1% 68/32 4.7 years 2 2%
Junior Lawyer 7004 3% 12% 62/38 2.7 years 704 10.1%
Pre-qualification 1036 1% 11% 80/20 3.3 years 53 5.1%



Retail, Higher Education and Non-profits have shown most growth in hiring across South West in the last 12 months. However, Law Practice and Legal services are still the biggest employers and are the most active job posters.

Of the industries within the sector that have the greatest hiring demand, Financial Services and Information Technology & Services top the list, being ranked as having a ‘very high’ hiring demand. They are followed by the Government Administration and Non-profit Organization Management industries, whose hiring demands are both rated as ‘high’.

Industry Professionals Growth (YOY)
Law Practice 5067 4%
Legal Services 2108 1%
Government Administration 420 3%
Financial Services 135 5%
Non-profit 98 18%
Higher Education 97 18%
Information & Technology 62 11%
Insurance 52 6%
Care 51 -4%
Retail 44 33%



It seems that law graduates are generally choosing to stay within the area long-term, as we can see that of all the professionals in the region, the majority qualified at local institutions e.g., UWE, Cardiff University, University of Exeter, University of Bristol, etc.

A 9% increase in legal professionals in the SW would be required to fill all the current vacancies, showing there is not only an overall lack of candidates but also a skills shortage and a lack of new graduates entering the market. The good news is that the majority of higher education schools that have produced legal professionals have been within the SW, showing the region is able to retain its talent rather than seeing graduates move to London to secure a higher wage.

School Professionals Recent grads
The University of Law 1089 703
University of the West of England 795 159
Cardiff University 790 232
University of Exeter 411 86
University of Bristol 377 91
BBP Law School 304 147
Swansea University 287 78
CILEX Law School 225 84
University of South Wales 207 44
University of Plymouth 177 31


Looking at the top employers in the region, Burges Salmon remains at the top of the list and also has had one of the largest increases in size in the last year, with Foot Anstey seeing a huge 23% growth. TLT is the only top company to see a decrease in the number of legal professions and Blake Morgan sees the highest attrition rates.

Company Professionals Growth (YOY) Attrition
Burges Salmon LLP 162 24% 8%
DAC Beachcroft LLP 140 1% 15%
Ashfords LLP 111 0% 11%
TLT LLP 102 -1% 14%
Hugh James 94 8% 14%
Michelmores 92 16% 7%
Foot Anstey LLP 83 32% 5%
Clarke Willmott 75 9% 13%
Stephens Scown 74 3% 10%
Blake Morgan LLP 69 1% 26%

What does this mean for me?

It’s become increasingly common that my team will discuss a career move that either involves relocation to or moving within the South West region in order to meet a lifestyle objective. If this is something that intrigues you, or if you are looking to grow your team, our specialist team will be able to advise you on this. Get in touch with us today.

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