The Thames Valley work-life balance and financial sense

The Thames Valley work-life balance and financial sense

Career Advice


This month, for the fourth year running, Oxford and Reading have been named the top-performing cities according to PwC’s Good Growth for Cities 2019 index, followed by Southampton in third place. The index measures the performance of 42 of the UK’s largest cities, England’s Local Enterprise Partnerships and ten Combined Authorities, against a basket of ten factors which the public think are most important when it comes to economic well-being. These include jobs, health, income and skills, as well as work-life balance, house-affordability, travel-to-work times, income equality, environment and business start-ups.

I live and work in the Thames Valley, where I practised as a lawyer for 12 years, and although my enthusiasm is bountiful for the region’s fantastic law firms and the quality of work on offer, its historic towns, cities, high performing schools and beautiful countryside, sometimes it is facts and figures that a lawyer likes to hear, particularly when the lure of our capital city is only a short train ride away.

In choosing a law firm to undertake my training contract, my head was never turned by the bright lights of London. Six months working on a graduate scheme in a bank at London bridge, slumming it on my student brother’s floor in Wood Green, whilst living on pasta and potatoes and battling on the Underground every day was enough to satiate that yearning! However now as a legal recruitment consultant working in the South East, including the Thames Valley, I regularly speak with lawyers who have trained in the City and stayed on, or moved in shortly after qualification, but who are now considering a move out to the regions.

Salary is the big one. Clearly the differences can be stark. Although in the Thames Valley and Surrey, NQ salaries can be in the £50,000s, this is certainly at the top of the scale. The range is likely to widen with seniority and can be quite a revelation to more senior solicitors looking to move. This applies especially to those who don’t have a following, as for most firms this will be an obstacle to Partnership. Senior Associates on salaries of £100,000 + in London may be looking at a salary of say £60,000 to £80,000 in the regions and taking a salary “cut” such as this can be hard to stomach.

However, a close hard look at the relative costs of living and/or travelling in to London soon establishes that what is left in the bank account at the end of the month, compared to living and working in say Oxford or Reading on a reduced salary, is not so very different at all.

Cost of living surveys show on average that London is approximately 30% to 35% more expensive than Reading or Oxford and that is taking into account renting rather buying a property. Almost all categories in these surveys including, for example, private school fees are significantly less outside of the capital. So, for example, £5000 in London has the same purchasing power as £3,860 in Oxford.

In these uncertain times it is also of note that the Thames Valley is predicted to have significant growth next year whilst other major UK cities may well stagnate. The UK PowerHouse Study by law firm Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), predicts that in 2020 Q4, Milton Keynes, Reading and Oxford will be the top three for economic growth with annual growth in all three locations at around 2%. Many law firms certainly have had this firmly in mind as they have planned their growth strategies for the next few years. Reading has seen an influx of top law firms moving in and expanding their regional offices and Oxford is following suit. Penningtons Manches Cooper, Freeths, Knights Plc and Winckworth Sherwood are all expanding in Oxford, whilst Taylor Vinters opened a new office in the city this month where they will be focusing on their core areas of venture funding, IP and technology.

Therefore, whilst I fully appreciate the appeal of living and working in our amazing capital city and even the draw of the pretty manageable commute to London, there is a lot to consider when looking at new roles and career moves. I would suggest that, if, for whatever reason, you are ready for a change, then you may be surprised that it can certainly ‘add up’ to look at roles in the many big name or even specialist smaller boutique firms in this region.

If you would be interested in having a confidential, no obligation, chat about what is potentially on offer in the Thames Valley or wider South East region then do please call our South East Team.