The Leeds Conference: Raising the city’s profile

Leeds Law Society is pressing upon its members to adopt the phrase, ‘Leeds: a centre for legal excellence’, and inco... Read More

Leeds Law Society is pressing upon its members to adopt the phrase, ‘Leeds: a centre for legal excellence’, and incorporate it into their marketing efforts, in a bid to raise the profile of the city’s legal sector and deliver the message to a wide audience.

The society, in partnership with Leeds City Council, is doing its own bit in this regard with the annual Leeds Conference, which took place at the Leeds Civic Hall on 13 June. Nearly 150 lawyers representing the city’s best law firms attended the event, where almost 30 speakers tackled issues such as mental wellbeing and Brexit, and presented on what attendees can do to improve the performances of their businesses and that of Leeds as a whole.

Immediate past president Bill Barton kicked off proceedings with his call for all lawyers and firms within Leeds to adopt the phrase, ‘Leeds: a centre for legal excellence’, into their marketing. The sector needs to act with one, unified voice, he said, in order to bring more people and businesses to the city.

Stephen Braviner-Roman, director general at the Government Legal Department (GLD), spoke next on the attraction of Leeds as a home to a GLD office, which currently has room for 80 members of staff.

If the GLD was a private practice law firm, it would the ninth largest in the UK, with 450,000 civil servants as clients across the country, as well as the sitting government. Braviner-Roman said last year’s decision to bring members of staff at two sites in Leeds into one office was made in part because the city is an attractive place in which to pursue a career, much like London.

The GLD also wants to be regionally representative, and saw an opportunity at a time when the government is investing in the North. The legal sector is also growing, Braviner-Roman said, meaning the talent and skills are available to undertake an expansion. The GLD Leeds office is home to its existing Leeds teams, specialists in commercial and employment law, and will be to additional recruits, many of whom will be drawn from the region. Litigation work is also planned, involving further recruitment.

Womble Bond Dickinson partner Paula Dillon, who is president of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce, updated attendees on what its members are focusing on, with Brexit unsurprisingly top of the list. Growth in Yorkshire since the Brexit vote in 2016 has been strong, in part due to weakness in the pound. Business confidence is bouncing back, too, after an initial drop following the referendum result.

Some investment decisions have been delayed or changed, particularly in the manufacturing sector, but this is because of the uncertainty around the final Brexit deal rather than the event itself. A skills shortage is also worrying businesses in Yorkshire, Dillon said, as are future regulatory frameworks. Dillon cited the Unified Patent Court and the requirement for a presence in the EU as one that could trip up lawyers and firms in Leeds and Yorkshire.

Devolution was high on the agenda at the Leeds Conference, with the event taking place only a few months after 18 of the 20 councils in Yorkshire submitted a proposal to the government for a regional mayor by 2020. Dillon and the Leeds Chamber of Commerce are backing devolution, as is Leeds City Council, which was represented at the Leeds Conference by chief executive Tom Riordan. He said devolution and transport are two key challenges for the city to overcome, as it builds on £10 billion of investment and the arrival of new businesses such as Reed Smith, and focuses on raising its profile nationally and internationally.

Three speakers offered attendees of the Leeds Conference insight into the opportunities that could arise for the city post-Brexit. Marc Jacobs, associate partner at Hofstede Insights, provided a run-down of overcoming cultural differences during business dealings; John Simmons, minister counselor for commercial affairs at the US Embassy in London, gave an update on the US-UK trade relationship, and Li Qiangmin, China’s consul general in Manchester, offered assurances that his country is keen to increase its trade with the UK and other European nations.

Other sessions that took place over the course of the day focused on mental wellbeing, the living wage, and diversity and inclusion, with attendees advised on what they can do to look after their members of staff, boost rates of pay within Leeds and Yorkshire, and make the legal sector more representative of the people that it serves.