Legal Business Blogs

Freshfields plans Manchester hub on radical scale as City leader repositions for changing law market

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s decision to jump on the near-shoring wagon with its first low-cost services hub in Manchester is on a scale larger than its peers, with up to 800 support service jobs being transferred – a move which is unsettling some at its Fleet Street headquarters.

The Manchester hub will affect six non partner-facing departments in total, including billing, IT, marketing, design, as well as some paralegals, as the Anglo-German giant attempts to streamline its support functions to cut costs. Current head of Freshfields’ general industries group and former disputes head Paul Lomas is heading the venture, while Deloitte has been appointed auditor.

The long-term goal is to eventually create a consultancy option as well as a low-cost legal services outpost, in a bid to compete with the Big Four accountancy firms that have recently moved into the legal services market by establishing alternative business structures. Being regarded as the most traditional of its peer group, the move will also see Freshfields align with rivals that already run similar ventures, such as Allen & Overy’s low-cost legal services hub in Belfast and Clifford Chance’s outsourcing knowledge centre in India.

But the decision has sparked concerns internally as some partners believe the move could upset the firm’s culture in what will be the biggest equivalent support services restructuring among the Magic Circle. ‘While the move challenges the firm’s core values on one hand, the firm has to move forward to remain competitive,’ says one internal source.

Legal Business understands the move initially intended to target more than 1,000 roles, but was scaled back to 800 following an internal debate. The move will be staggered in phases with the first transfers to a Manchester location expected in the second half of this year. Although the venture is looking to relocate staff, it is also expected to result in a number of redundancies.

Support centres have been a popular choice for many firms and Manchester already hosts Berwin Leighton Paisner, while Latham & Watkins is due to open an office in the city within the next few months. Meanwhile, Hogan Lovells last year announced plans to open a new support office in Birmingham.