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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, the capital city 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 Welsh market continues to be informed to a significant extent by the pervasive influence felt by the public sector. With over a quarter of the nation’s workforce employed by it, its impact is felt in much of the legal work carried out in the region.

Firms that were appointed to the various panels as designated by the National Procurement Service (NPS), continue to benefit from that relationship and are well-positioned to pick up instructions from over 70 public sector organisations in Wales that are members of the NPS. Nevertheless, entities that signed up to the service are not bound to use panel firms and can go off panel for transactions should they wish. Indeed, a recent report delivered by the Auditor General for Wales, found that in actuality the anticipated savings generated by a system that allowed public bodies to pool their purchasing power was far less than expected and that an unexpectedly high proportion of public sector bodies have been choosing not to utilise the service.

While Wales does not have a distinct legal system akin to Scotland, it does have devolved powers (conferred by the Government of Wales Act 2016) and therefore it is often the case that in order for legal advice to be effectively provided it should be done so through the prism of devolved Welsh law. This not only applies on behalf of local clients doing business in Wales, but also English entities on their dealings and engagements with Welsh businesses. The passing into law of the Wales Act 2017 was a significant development in the constitutional landscape, moving as it did from a system which explicitly conferred powers on the devolved government, to one based on a “reserved powers” model which defines what is under the control of Westminster – everything else being assumed to rest with the Welsh Assembly. Brexit has caused some friction between government officials at Cardiff Bay and Westminster, with particular concerns being raised that the UK government is attempting something of a “power grab” and exerting control over the Welsh government in relation to powers in devolved areas that are currently wielded at EU level. Although Westminster has since softened its stance - only suggesting temporary control over a list of 24 areas - (including animal health and food labelling), this has not sufficiently appeased the Welsh government and a counter measure in the form of The Continuity Bill was recently passed aimed at preventing such a “power grab” and preserving the system of devolution.

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 have recently established offices in the capital attracted to some extent by the lower costs incurred by running the business out of Cardiff.

In terms of its overall national and global scope, Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP dwarfs the competition. This is reflected in its workflow and while it does handle a significant amount of local work, a significant proportion of its instructions come from England and internationally, where it can offer considerable cost benefits to clients. The firm is active across the spectrum of business transactions and has significant areas of sector focus including energy and education. The Cardiff office also houses the firm’s nationally renowned inquiries and investigations group.

Blake Morgan LLP continues to thrive in the market, picking up broad-ranging mandates from both public and private sector clients. With the Blake Lapthorn merger of 2014 having had more time to bed in, the firm is also increasingly active advising on matters outside of Wales, where it is able to work with colleagues from across the national network of offices.

Many clients appreciate Capital Law Limited ’s ‘entrepreneurial and unstuffy approach’ and since its entrance on the market in 2006 it has continued its upward trajectory and is firmly established as one of the leading full-service firms in the market with clients including the Royal Mint and the British Medical Association.

Acuity Legal Limited is another very forward-thinking firm which continues to gain market share, particularly in relation to its core areas of focus including real estate (where leading developer Rightacres is a major client), construction and corporate transactions. The firm’s nascent Swansea office is also beginning to thrive and offer clients a litigation service which was previously lacking at the firm.

Of the more traditional and longstanding firms in the market, Hugh James is the largest indigenous law firm in Wales and has significant market recognition across a wide range of practice areas. Indeed, the firm is notable and somewhat of an anomaly in the market, for not only its ability to handle big-ticket business-related transactions but also its market-leading private client and claimant-side personal injury/clinical negligence offerings.

Geldards LLP is another mainstay of the market and 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’s All-Wales Solicitors’ panel.

Chester 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 Mackenzie Jones Solicitors ’ property specialist Andrew Foley Jones. At Hillyer McKeown LLP , Justine Watkinson and Lindsey Kidd are recommended for employment law.

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