March 12, 2024
Aspiring lawyers will be interested to read about the effect ‘work from home’ policies are having on transport industries (most recently Addison Lee) in London.

What is the latest development on the City’s taxi industry?

A leading minicab operator, Addison Lee, has reported a significant decrease in its bookings around London in the wake of increasingly popular ‘work from home’ policies emerging post-COVID 19. This appears to have had a major impact on the way in which London travels – Addison Lee CEO Liam Griffin has stated that bookings have fallen 10% – and that reduction of activity has most notably come from areas like Canary Wharf, which are known for their financial services sector. 

Why is the taxi industry faltering in Canary Wharf?

A huge number of banks are based in Canary Wharf including Barclays, HSBC, and Citi. In more recent years, however, a large number of tenants are moving out.

This also includes Magic Circle law firm Clifford Chance (the only Magic Circle firm based in Canary Wharf – all of the other four are more centrally-located), which has announced that it too is planning to move from Canary Wharf into the City of London.

The departure of so many corporate outfits is down to a few reasons, though the most notable is the fact that many of these offices are simply too big to be sustainable for the number of staff who actually come into the office regularly.

Clifford Chance, on announcing their departure from Canary Wharf, noted that they only really need about two thirds of their office space for the current number of staff working from the office day-to-day. Most law firms of this size are operating on a one or two day ‘work from home’ basis per week (with some more experimental ‘freelance’ firms like Keystone Law operating on a fully remote basis).

Similarly, Barclays is now choosing to sub-let a large portion of its Canary Wharf office in order to recoup some of their wasted expenditure. According to a BBC article, in mid-2023, almost 15% of Canary Wharf’s office space is now vacant – a number which has not reached those heights since the early 2000s. 



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How were corporate outfits supporting the taxi industry in the first place?

Huge organisations with a large number of staff are always going to need to get around the City quickly. While the tube is always one option, many senior staff in particular reportedly take a ‘no-expense spared’ approach to moving around London in greater comfort than on the London Underground (which will admittedly save you from getting caught in traffic). Taxis also provide an opportunity to speak with clients and maintain phone signal while on the move. 

A particularly strong source of work for taxi companies like Addison Lee, historically, has been not only ferrying lawyers and bankers between meetings during the day, but bringing them home late at night after a long shift. A large number of law firms in particular are known for offering free taxis home for staff after a certain time (often around 8pm or 9pm) which many appear to be taking them up on very regularly.

For example, Kirkland & Ellis (an elite-US heavyweight law firm) has an average finish time of almost midnight, according to some reports. Of course, when employees are working long hours from home, transport companies like Addison Lee won’t be seeing any of those profits anymore. 

How will corporate departures affect London’s culture?

As a result of so many departures from areas like Canary Wharf, these parts of London are often now being redeveloped – attempting to find new life by rebranding themselves.

Where Canary Wharf has traditionally been known for banking, many young people now find themselves visiting on the weekends for shopping and leisure attractions like luxury cinemas, an underground arcade, or shopping centres. Furthermore, a large number of residential housing options are popping up around the area (for example the Wood Wharf estate, right next-door to where the skyscrapers currently sit). Thousands of individuals now call this area home.

Why should aspiring lawyers care about this story?

This story poses a huge number of talking points from a commercial awareness perspective – something which you will certainly need to showcase on both your application form and interviews for opportunities leading to work as a solicitor or barrister (such as training contracts, vacation schemes, pupillages, etc). 

First off, there is the growing sense in London that lawyers are now expected to double up as consultants to some extent – not only knowing the law, but knowing what a practical application of that law for your client is. Say you were advising Addison Lee on their takeover of a smaller Canary-Wharf based taxi company which has some great relationships with local banks and law firms – while the deal might be legally sound on paper, do you think this is something which makes a lot of sense to go ahead with in the current climate?

Many points from this story also apply to anyone interested in a seat in real estate (a popular choice amongst trainees at many large firms, where advising on office spaces are the main source of revenue). You are likely to experience a real change in the way corporate clients of yours are planning to relocate their workspaces across the City – and you will be expected to have a good understanding of the contextual backdrop that these deals fall upon when heading into negotiations and the like. 

Finally, as a potential future corporate employee yourself, the changing nature of work is likely to affect aspects of your own career in the near future. How might these developments affect your work-life balance (something notoriously hard to find as a lawyer)? How will spending less time in the office or jumping in a taxi to visit a client face-to-face impact your career development from a networking perspective? A variety of though-provoking questions emerge from the interlinked stories presented here. 


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