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Freshfields steps up New Law makeover with Euro services hub and Manchester expansion plans

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is to build on its mass relocation of support roles to the north with the launch of an equivalent hub for continental Europe. The move is also set to usher in a new career track for legal staff and support tech-assisted services, further building on the City giant’s 2015 shake-up, which has already created more than 700 jobs in Manchester.

The latest initiative will see Freshfields launch a new back and middle office centre to cover mainland Europe, with Berlin viewed as the most likely destination. ‘Berlin is the preferred location because it’s a centre for legal tech, and the only European city where there is a real start-up scene,’ Freshfields managing partner Stephan Eilers told Legal Business.

The move will create a support service for the whole of continental Europe.

There will be around 100 new roles for support lawyers, legal assistants and technologists in the new European hub. The firm will use its existing Berlin branch, which currently has around 80 staff, to transition to the new site, which is expected to be up and running before the end of the year.

Freshfields also aims to use the incoming regime to allow work-based routes to qualifying in England and Wales to offer its current ‘legal support assistants’ in Manchester the chance to become solicitors. The firm in Manchester currently has around 60 law assistants – typically paralegals or holders of vocational legal qualifications. These ranks are now expected to rise to over 100.

The prospect of an elite London law firm offering an apprentice-style track to becoming a solicitor (under the new solicitors qualification exam regime) is also a notable move in the profession.

Freshfields will also begin recruiting qualified solicitors in Manchester to support its widening range of services like contract management, due diligence and document review. The firm expects to hire or transfer ten to 15 junior solicitors to Manchester, the first time it has recruited solicitors locally.

Eilers stressed, however, that Freshfields in London ‘will not shrink under our plans’ and these initiatives were aimed at up building new service models rather than cutting its City ranks further. The firm employs around 1,200 staff in London.

Andrew Hart, disputes partner at Freshfields, commented: ‘The tech focus will be mainly on increasing efficiency of due diligence in the claims management space, to be used to speed up complex and data-heavy claims like the Volkswagen diesel emissions case.’

Hart also cited considerable progress since in 2016 partnering with Kira, the artificial intelligence software that searches and analyses contracts, to transform the way Freshfields handles due diligence.

The fresh initiatives come amid a sustained push to refashion the 275-year old City giant with new business models and efficient tech-assisted tools. The firm recently invited a group of GCs to tour its Manchester site to elicit feedback on new services it is developing, drawing praise from the GC community.

In January, Freshfields also appointed a new chief digital and technology officer, Charlotte Baldwin from bluechip Pearson, to help drive its digital agenda on a global level. Eilers sums up Freshfields’ approach: ‘This will be pretty radical. Manchester has made substantial sense for the firm, and Berlin will too. We’ve learned that you need to take substantial steps. It doesn’t make sense to make changes piecemeal.’