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The West Midlands chapter covers Birmingham and the surrounding counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, the Black Country, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. The UK’s Brexit decision has, perhaps surprisingly, left the West Midlands in a state of quiet confidence. For one thing, the vote heralded the departure of Chancellor George Osborne (with his economic politics favouring the ‘Northern Powerhouse’), and the arrival into office of Chancellor Philip Hammond. Hammond has recently unfurled the ‘Midlands Engine Strategy’, that purposes significant investment in skills, connectivity and local growth in the Midlands, and at the same time sets out how the government plans to drive the region’s huge potential and promote it to the world.

Another telling factor is that the dominant automotive business and attending supply chain that powers the region has not, as yet, seen any side effects; and additional votes of confidence were installed in this sector by the decision of Jaguar Land Rover to expand its facilities at the i54 development site in Wolverhampton, as well as continued interest from manufacturers outside the region in setting up shop at i54.

Further, while a shortage of good industrial, commercial and residential property threatens to hamper the West Midlands’ ability to compete on a global level, the region continued to address this problem through projects such as the Paradise Circus premier office development, as well as a large volume of private rented sector mandates in Birmingham city centre. And with the creation of the West Midlands Combined Authority - with powers over transport, economic development and regeneration for the whole region - many are expecting an attendant public sector upgrade in spend on infrastructure and property.

For law firms, the Brexit vote inevitably led to an influx of queries from businesses agitated over the implications of future commercial dealings with Europe. Aside from an increase in advice on cross-border commercial contracts, legal advice was also in demand in areas such a banking litigation - where one claim related to an investment fund manager's failure to process instructions correctly in respect of foreign currency hedging at the time of the Brexit vote – employment law and corporate matters. Many observers noted an increase in inbound investment to the UK (as a result of the drop in the value of Sterling), with Chinese investment increasingly catching US-led M&A; in one major international deal, a Chinese investment group headed by Guochuan Lai purchased West Bromwich Albion Holdings.

Outside of Brexit, local domestic companies were also on the acquisition trail, with many corporate teams enjoying an uptick in M&A instructions in sectors such healthcare and accountancy. However, more significant corporate transactions emanating from the region continue to be led from London, albeit with Birmingham law firms tending to handle certain aspects of such work: both Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP and Shakespeare Martineau LLP were involved in the National Grid’s recent £13.8bn transfer of its gas distribution business to a new entity in advance of the proposed sale of a majority stake in that entity.

Legal recruitment remains in thrall to the dominant London market and a number of firms outside of Birmingham have opted for the alternative business structure model to help lure non-legal professionals into roles in private practice.

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