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Avoiding nearshoring: Clifford Chance to move 400 staff to Canary Wharf low-cost hub

While peers have chosen low-cost hubs farther afield in the UK, Clifford Chance (CC) is moving its back-office staff from its Canary Wharf headquarters to a new location five minutes’ walk away.

The firm will transfer 400 operational staff to an open-plan office in a building occupied by State Street Bank & Trust at Churchill Place in a bid to cut back on costs.

With Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Allen & Overy having opened low-cost bases in Manchester and Belfast respectively, CC chief operating officer (COO) Caroline Firstbrook said: ‘When we looked at opportunities for where to move operations, we had a debate and concluded that, to the extent we could move people, the lawyers that we have in the CC headquarters need to be in close contact with operations. Moving them out of Canary Wharf was not an option.’

The new no-frills office space will be open-plan with no individual desk allocation, and teams in large part will be given the task of creating their own work policies on issues including timekeeping and flexible working.

Firstbrook, who arrived as COO earlier this year from Accenture, said the 400 staff will include ‘anyone that doesn’t need to be in close contact with fee-earners on a day-to-day basis’. The firm, which has already made £6m in operational savings this year, has signed a lease for nearly two floors at a cost of £37.50 per sq ft.

Having long struggled with property overheads eating into profits, in July CC announced a substantial shake-up of operations at Canary Wharf, with its current premises housing over 1,500 permanent staff. It secured a substantial deal to reduce costs, after subletting 400,000 sq ft of office space to Deutsche Bank.

CC has around one million sq ft of office space at Canary Wharf, though it already has a number of sublets in the 33-storey building at 10 Upper Bank Street.

Firstbrook added the firm had ‘no immediate plans’ to extend beyond its current offshore centre in India, a New Delhi-based project designed to give the firm better control of costs and tighter central co-ordination of administration services, but for language reasons the firm could develop a small resource in China with Mandarin speakers.