Tony Brooke’s reflections on the Yorkshire Legal Conference: Part One

The Northern Powerhouse: key points of the day

 

Last Wednesday was a day of lively debate and provocative discussions as I left the office to attend the Yorkshire Legal Conference, held at the University of Law in Leeds.

Chaired by former MP Nick Hawkins, the conference brought together lawyers from across the region to discuss issues on a theme relating to the legal profession. This year’s event focused on the concept of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and what this means for legal professionals in the North, and the conference, as ever, was an eye-opener.

As well as covering topics such as infrastructure and regeneration, the implications of Brexit, and the positives and negatives of devolution as an enabling fact for the Northern Powerhouse, the day’s discussion centred around the role of the legal sector in the Northern Powerhouse, and the need for both regional and national collaboration.

Comprising guest lectures, keynote speakers and a trade symposium, the day showcased an interesting range of perspectives and a broad spectrum of attendees. It was a fascinating collection of expertise, representing a decent cross section of the legal community from international multi-site firms such as Addleshaw Goddard, Eversheds, and Squire Patton Boggs, to more recognised Yorkshire brands including Walker Morris, as well as notable regional commercial firms such as Lupton Fawcett, hlw Keeble Hawson, and Blacks.

It wasn’t just Leeds lawyers contributing – Law Society officials from Liverpool, Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester spoke at the event. Each was passionate about their own local legal market and the expertise within, yet all vocal of the need for collective efforts to work together as a Northern Powerhouse of legal expertise.

My day at the Yorkshire Legal Conference provide useful insights into the future of the legal profession in the North. Here are a few points from the day which I found particularly perceptive and relevant to what we do at Florit Brooke:

 

Defining the ‘Northern Powerhouse’

Despite the enthusiasm and ubiquitous appreciation for the concept of the Northern Powerhouse, there appears to be a great deal of ambiguity over exactly what it is, what level of impact it might have, what opportunities there may be as a consequence, and how this will affect the legal profession.

Quite what ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is was discussed from various perspectives, and “a brand without a product”, and “a state of mind” were both comments with merit. For me, the most apt definition of the Northern Powerhouse came from Amy Harhoff, Head of Policy and Strategy for Transport for the North, who described the concept as “terminology to capture a plan to address an issue”. Within the Northern Powerhouse plan, Amy compellingly positioned financial and professional services as a key ‘enabling capability’ vital to the success of the Northern Powerhouse. From Amy’s talk, my key takeaway was how clearly legal services fall within that facilitator category, and therefore the strength of the role they will play in establishing the North of England as a critical hub for business and enterprise.

 

Legal services – a powerhouse of potential?

Gerard Khoshnaw of Gateley spoke highly of the capability of Yorkshire’s legal firms – legal services in this region, if viewed as an asset to the country, are very well positioned to facilitate domestic growth as well as foreign investment. He did, however, emphasise how much the region could benefit from publicising its work more widely. In particular, he highlighted the benefits of promoting the headline work from outside Yorkshire which is so frequently and impressively handled by Yorkshire’s lawyers.

So much of the Northern Powerhouse’s success seems to come down to getting its message heard both nationally and internationally. Whilst self-promotion might seem to rail against the legal profession’s traditional values of discretion and prudence, Gerard was clear that legal professionals in the North of England shouldn’t shy away from talking about the invaluable work they do.

 

The role of legal services in the Northern Powerhouse

My overall takeaway from the day’s papers was that there are plenty of reasons for the North’s lawyers to be optimistic. In a market where the expertise is here already in our region, government policy intends to lead investment and focus to the North: the trend towards legal operations shifting out of London towards the North is already visible, and forecasts point to this movement increasing in future.

So what part can lawyers play in the Northern Powerhouse? The general consensus among the speakers was that that lawyers need to get behind the Northern Powerhouse vision: to believe in the Northern Powerhouse; to be interested and supportive of it; and, where possible, to promote northern legal capabilities and the concept of the Powerhouse outside of the region.

This piece is the first of two blog posts discussing the role of legal professionals in the North of England in creating an effective Northern Powerhouse. Part 2 will be published next week – bookmark the blog or follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss it!

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