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The large commercial law firms in Wales are located along the M4 corridor, from Newport in the east to Swansea in the west, with Cardiff the commercial hub. Due to poor transport links, Cardiff is often not convenient for clients in mid and north Wales; clients unable to source help from local firms in these areas tend to instruct firms in England. The public sector continues to be a strong economic driver in the region; over a quarter of the nation’s workforce is employed in that area, meaning that for Welsh firms to operate credibly in Wales a significant amount of public sector-related instructions are crucial. The inception in 2013 of the National Procurement Service (NPS) – a Welsh government sponsored agency established with the aim of streamlining public procurement – significantly changed the dynamics by which legal services could be purchased by the public sector. Divided into various discrete lots, including civil litigation, education law and employment law, over 70 organisations (including NHS Wales and the Welsh government) have signed up to the initiative and have tacitly agreed to use those firms that have been appointed to the various discrete panels. With the legal services framework running from 2015-2019, appointment to the various panels are certainly important, in terms of potentially securing a significant flow of repeat instructions from public sector clients. However, as a caveat to that, public sector signatories to the service are not bound to use panel firms and can go off panel for transactions should they wish.

Although Wales does not have a distinct legal system akin to Scotland, it does have various devolved powers (conferred by the Government of Wales Act 2006) and therefore it is often the case that for legal advice to be effectively given it should be done so through the prism of devolved Welsh law. This not only applies to local clients doing business in Wales but also often with regard to English entities on their dealings and engagements with Welsh businesses. Although it will not come into force until 2018, The Wales Act 2017 is now law and provides further changes to Welsh devolution, substantially rewriting the balance of powers between the Welsh government in Cardiff and the UK government in Westminster. Whereas previously, devolved powers were set out in a list of ‘conferred’ powers, under the new Act it defines the things Welsh government cannot do – so-called ‘reservations’. While many commentators were disappointed by the changes made under the Act, suggesting that rather than increase the powers of the devolved Welsh government it has reduced them, it will be interesting to observe how the Welsh Ministers exercise their powers under the reserved powers arrangements and the effect that the Wales Act 2017 has on legislation in Wales going forward.

The legal market in Wales is heavily saturated in Cardiff, although this is hardly surprising as it is the capital and the centre of all commercial activity in the country. While the majority of law firms situated in Wales are local entities, a number of English firms, including Clarke Willmott LLP and Lewis Silkin LLP have recently established offices in the capital, attracted to some extent by the ability to run matters at a lower cost base out of Cardiff.

In terms of its overall national and global scope, Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP dwarves the competition. This is reflected in its workflow, and while it does handle a significant amount of local work, a good deal of its instructions come from England and internationally. The Cardiff office’s sector focuses include energy and education. It also houses the firm’s nationally renowned inquiries and investigations group.

Blake Morgan LLP has deeply entrenched relationships with local companies and the public sector, as well as also benefiting from an extended and enhanced reach following its merger with Blake Lapthorn in 2014. The firm also benefits from considerable public law expertise, of particular importance in relation to work at the nexus of devolved power.

Capital Law LLP’s notable clients include The Royal Mint and The British Medical Association, which regularly instruct the firm across a number of practice areas. It is also one of the few firms in Wales with a focus on private equity-related mandates, both in the local market, as well as in London, where it is able to offer a strong service at reduced rates and provides some competition to more established London firms, particularly on corporate finance acquisitions in the lower-to-mid-market.

Geldards LLP is known in particular for its public sector strength, a fact that was recently underscored by its appointment to seven different lots (including planning and environment and higher education) on the NPS’ All-Wales Solicitors’ panel.

The largest indigenous law firm in Wales, Hugh James is well-thought-of in the market across a broad cross-section of practice areas both in a transactional and litigious setting. Its merger in November 2016 with Cardiff-based firm MLM Cartwright enhances the firm’s corporate and property capabilities in particular. The firm also fields a market-leading claimant practice for both personal injury and clinical negligence, in addition to a pre-eminent wealth management offering.

Acuity Legal Limited is gaining increased traction in the market and is seen by many as a safe pair of hands on transactional work and a viable alternative to some of the country’s more established firms. The firm’s partner-led approach is particularly suited to complex and often innovative mandates and the firm features highly in transactional areas including corporate and commercial, real estate and projects.

Chester-based lawyers are pivotal to the north and mid-Wales market. Particular names to note include Aaron & Partners LLP’s David Harries, who has expertise in renewable energy; Knights Professional Services Limited’s Richard Williams for agricultural work; and property specialist property specialist Andrew Foley Jones at Mackenzie Jones Solicitors. At Hillyer McKeown, Justine Watkinson and Lindsey Kidd are recommended for employment law. Lanyon Bowdler specialises in agricultural work in mid-Wales, with Brian Evans in Shrewsbury and Emma Wilde in Oswestry the key contacts.

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