Get off my land, Herbies

When Herbert Smith announced it was opening a Belfast office to aid its dispute resolution practice two years ago, it probably didn’t think it would soon be using the base for lawsuits going on purely between parties in the Australian outback.

But that could almost be the reality if current plans to use the Northern Ireland base for legacy Freehills work takes off. At present the firm is looking to launch a pilot scheme – which presumably means more than just flying the documents over in a plane – that will be extended if all works well.

It could just be one big trick though. The Australian state of Victoria has a coastal town called Port Fairy with roughly 2,500 residents, not far from Melbourne by Australian standards. Sydney solicitor James Atkinson, who was from Northern Ireland, bought 5,120 acres of land in the town in 1843 and renamed it after his hometown – Belfast. It was a name that lasted until 1887, when the town reverted to its old name following an act of parliament.

Either today’s news is a show of revenge by the residents of Port Fairy to force a reverse takeover of Belfast by Australians, or we are truly mistaken, and Herbies actually intends to outsource document review processes to a small town in Victoria by the sea.

That might make a lot of more sense than using Northern Ireland for a bunch of Antipodean legal disputes.

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