Busy high street

The Rise of the High Street and "Doughnut-shaped" Cities


The title of my blog sounds like the title of a Geography dissertation and takes me back to my university days! However, having recently come across an article published by KPMG, it got me thinking about the future of our urban areas and the implications for our law firm clients.


We are all aware of the huge impact that Covid has had on our cities and it is becoming very clear that things won’t return to the way they were. The pandemic has accelerated many aspects of change to our working and personal life, but what will this mean for our towns and cities and what impact will this have on law firms?


Online shopping, working from home and reduced commuting have certainly made a big impact on many aspects of life. Research by Alvarez & Marsal suggests that one in four individuals expect to permanently change their shopping habits in favour of online retail, even once the pandemic ends. An increase in hybrid homeworking is also very evident, with many law firms such as Freshfields, Taylor Wessing and Irwin Mitchell announcing new working policies. Dentons, Slater & Gordon and other firms have closed offices in a shift towards reducing office space and encouraging remote working - a trend that seems likely to continue. So what will our cities look like in the future?


Lower numbers of commuters, a reduction in office space and unoccupied commercial property will all pose a real risk to city centres. In addition, the reduced footfall will hit personal services such as hairdressers, coffee shops, sandwich shops and restaurants as well as retail, which has already been hit hard. In turn, this will negatively impact other service-related jobs and therefore exacerbate the vacuum developing in city centres (the centre of the doughnut). On a positive note, this has prompted many authorities to start to look at the future ‘health’ of their cities, encompassing retail, business, health, culture and community and I’m sure many strategies are developing fast.


It may well be a different story for many local high streets and suburban areas with a higher concentration of residential property and many smaller independent businesses. Workers may no longer join a gym close to work, but instead opt for one closer to home where they will be working more often. The same could apply to local hairdressers, coffee shops, restaurants and many other retailers who experienced newfound support as a result of the pandemic. This shift should promote local growth, a diverse business landscape, new employment opportunities, and enhance a better work-life balance for some. This could even regenerate some high streets and create a diverse and buoyant economy that sits outside of the city centre, coining the phrase the ‘doughnut shaped’ city. According to KPMG, "Many urban centres will be worse affected as there is a significant trend to suburban and rural locations, covering retail parks as well as high streets".


So how will this impact my law firm clients? As I mentioned before, many firms are now reviewing and reducing their office space and this is likely to be those with multiple, costly or city centre based locations. Hybrid and flexible working will be a key consideration in recruiting staff and attracting the best talent, as the lure of city life may not be as attractive as it once was. All firms will need to consider this in the marketing of new opportunities and generally in their recruitment strategy. One positive is that the home location of a prospective employee may now not be critical if they are only expected in the office twice a week or even once a month. The growth and success of the fee-sharing firms, where all consultants work from home, has again demonstrated the pull of firms offering a different working model and environment.  


For the smaller high street firms, this trend away from city centres could translate to an increase in business as a result of greater footfall and a renewed enthusiasm to support local businesses. Some locally-based solicitors may be even keener than ever to work locally. Interestingly, I have been working with a large number of high street firms who have remained working in their offices (under strict Covid guidelines), throughout the pandemic. This is partly attributed to the type of work that they cover, but it also demonstrates that the high street law firm office is here to stay.


Overall, all of these changes demonstrate one thing – that there has never been so much variety when looking for an opportunity within the legal sector. Office-based, city-based, hybrid working or remote working, you can take your pick! All you need to do is assess what your key priorities are and we can guide you from there.


Charlotte Williams is an experienced legal recruiter who has been with Chadwick Nott for over 10 years, working with all types of law firm from global names to high street practices.


Email: charlottewilliams@chadwicknott.co.uk

Phone: 0121 200 5577

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