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Offshoring goes in-house: Shell to launch external legal centre to service global operations

In the latest twist to the offshoring saga, and following news last week that two global 100 firms are to outsource to Poland and Manila, Royal Dutch Shell is preparing to open its own offshore legal centre to service the oil giant’s global operations.

A projects team, reporting to the company’s legal director Donny Ching (pictured), is currently scouting possible locations and considering headcount numbers for the centre, with a brief to come back by autumn.

A mixture of non-qualified and qualified lawyers will be doing more high-end work as well as the traditional back office work which is more typically suited to offshore centres. Potential locations for the centre will ultimately depend on whether Shell can recruit the right quality people in a particular area.

Speaking to Legal Business Ching said the remit to the team was that there were “no preconceived ideas”: ‘There are no targets. When you want a projects team to do a bit of blue sky thinking you don’t want to put too many constraints on them including targets or things like that. The only target they have is a time target – they have to report back by a certain time. There would be a mix of work, because we have standardised a lot of our contracts now, it is much easier for us to train people in off-shore centres to deal with and work with the commercial folks in the business.’

Shell’s legal team has already off-shored some specific parts of its work, with a due diligence team in Glasgow and patent search team in Bangalore. However the company has a number of off-shore business centres in locations including Krakow, Glasgow, South Africa, Manila, Bangalore and Malaysia.

The trend for offshoring shows no signs of abating, with the news last week that both Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) and Dentons were to open in Manila and Poland respectively. NRF’s Manila centre, which will launch in September, will provide business support services in marketing, HR, knowledge management and libraries, document production, finance, IT and compliance. The plan is part of the firm’s 2020 global efficiency drive to ‘standardise and improve the firm’s business operations processes and systems’.

In a move expected to affect 50 back-office jobs in the UK, the new Dentons Business Services EMEA unit is a joint initiative of the firm’s practices in the UK, Middle East and Africa (UKMEA) and Europe. To launch in Warsaw later this year, the centre will be headed by director Piotr Macieja, who joins from professional services provider TMF.

Although the trend is relatively new for in-house teams, a string of major UK law firms have launched low cost support centres both globally and in the UK regions since the 2008 banking crisis ushered in tougher trading conditions, including Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith Freehills and Ashurst.

Read more about Ching and his team in this year’s GC Powerlist