When legacy Herbert Smith set up its volume disputes support centre in Belfast in 2011 it was, despite or perhaps because of the fact that it was at the vanguard of this kind of move, a conservatively promoted step, with initial plans to train only around 20 fee earners, including a mix of solicitors and legal assistants.
Post its merger with Freehills, the growth of this successful centre is evident as its latest pilot to roll out the use of the Belfast centre to its Australian merger partner for Australian litigation gets underway, and the fact that it has, three years later, blown its initial growth targets out of the water with 120 permanent employees, almost evenly split between qualified lawyers and legal assistants.
According to one spokesperson for the firm the Belfast office is already used to support work coming from jurisdictions such as Europe and Hong Kong. The purpose of this latest pilot, which has been on the table since 2012, is to see if the time differences can be overcome and the Belfast office is currently working on a large dispute that is set to finish in April, when the pilot scheme draws to a close.
Libby Jackson, director of the Belfast office told Legal Business: ‘The pilot is focused on ensuring that our teams, our processes and our technology solutions work together seamlessly to deliver to the Australian disputes practice the responsiveness across time zones, cost-efficiency and high quality legal work that the Belfast office has delivered to date to our global clients.’
Jackson commented that she has had some positive feedback from the pilot already and once the pilot concludes in April there will be a review from both the Belfast and Australian perspectives.
She adds: ‘In our experience, clients are increasingly placing value on a more systemised approach to the document intensive aspects of cases but are looking for solutions which further enhance (rather than sacrifice) quality while allowing costs to be controlled more closely.
‘The rapid expansion of the office and the legal services that we offer is due to high levels of client demand and interest.’