Baker & McKenzie has become the latest law firm to open a legal services office in Belfast as greater differentiation between high and low value work appears within mandates.
Bakers becomes the first US-headquartered firm to launch a legal services centre in the UK and is the fourth global law firm to create a Belfast outpost for low-value legal work, with Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills having opened similar operations in recent years.
The launch in Belfast, which follows an 18-month process that looked at more than 12 locations, takes the firm up to two global services centres, following the launch of a legal services base in Manila in 2000. Timezone was a key consideration, with the EMEA region the biggest source of revenue for the firm, accounting for 38% of the Baker & McKenzie’s record $2.54bn turnover for the year ending 30 June 2014.
The centre is expected to include around 120 professionals by the end of its first year of operation, rising to between 200 and 250 after three years. Initially around two-thirds of professionals will be in business services support and one-third legal staff.
Baker & McKenzie’s global director of operations, Jason Marty, is relocating from Chicago to Belfast to serve as the initial executive director of the centre. The firm will now look to secure premises and launch a local recruitment drive, with the expectation that the centre will be operational by September 2014.
The world’s largest law firm, Baker & McKenzie, which has opened nine offices in the last four years, was the first global law firm to open a legal services centre when it opened in Manilla, which has increased in size 10% year-on-year since 2000 to house more than 600 business services and legal staff supporting the firm’s 76 offices. The firm hopes to further lower costs with this latest opening, which will allow around the clock services and reduce the firm’s dependency on its Manilla base, which has been used by the likes of Unilever to process IP advice.
As greater proportions of legal work are being sliced to be handled in a more cost-effective manner, Belfast will provide a higher level of capability than on offer in Manilla, with plans in place to service a greater element of corporate and litigation work from the Northern Ireland base.
Tim Gee, head of the firm’s global M&A practice, said: ‘We are planning on building global centres of excellence in Belfast in the areas of due diligence and deal closing, which will be an integral part of our transactional team. Backed by project management specialists, the centres of excellence will provide integrated support to our deal teams around the world. The value for clients will be better risk assessment and more efficient execution.’
Eduardo Leite, chairman of Baker & McKenzie, said: ‘Clients consistently expect us to offer efficient and innovative services and manage costs. In response to client demand we have been centralising a range of front-line and back-office services in Manila over the past 14 years. This has given us great experience in off-shoring back-office support services and mid-office support for practice groups such as our global intellectual property support team for centralized, high-quality intellectual property management services for multinational clients.’
Paul Rawlinson, London managing partner at Baker & McKenzie, added: ‘One of the compelling reasons for choosing Belfast was the availability of a high-quality, well-educated workforce, able to support not just EMEA but all of our other regions.’