HSF considers Asian support hubs as part of Belfast consultation

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) could open support centres in countries such as China, India, Malaysia or Thailand depending on the result of an ongoing consultation into its Belfast office. 

HSF has been looking at how its Belfast support centre supports its Asia and Australia practices following the 2012 merger between legacy HSF, with Belfast director Libby Jackson travelling to both regions this month.

Jackson returned this week from a two-week trip to Australia to discuss the outcome of a four-month pilot, which saw the Belfast team take on a multi-million pound Australian dispute.

She will travel to Hong Kong on 15 September to consult partners on the ways the office can support its Asia lawyers with ideas under consideration including opening bases in Asian jurisdictions.

Jackson said it was too early in the consultation process to talk about possible specific locations but said: “The question we need to ask is what our clients need globally. If our clients need an offering based in Asia-Pacific we would definitely consider it.”

The soundings follow the end of a pilot into the Belfast team’s handling of Australian mandates launched in January aimed at testing the firm’s technology and assessing how well time-zone differences could be overcome (20 January 2014).

Jackson said feedback following the pilot showed the system could be left in place but that the firm was still considering new options in Asia and Australia. One consideration for the Asia office was language around due diligence mandates, though Jackson said it was one of many factors in choosing a location.

HSF’s Belfast office was set up in 2011 as a document review hub staffed with solicitors and legal assistants to support the dispute resolution practice and has expanded significantly since then. It started with 26 employees including 19 fee-earners and today has 143 staff in total with seven non-lawyers, 25 per cent of which work on a flexible, part-time basis.

The team has also taken on significant volumes of work for Asia and Australia since the merger. It also now dedicates around 30 per cent of its resources towards non-contentious mandates (16 June 2014).

Jackson’s aim is to reach a ratio of 1:3 of non-contentious to contentious work by the end of the financial year with the team taking on more document intensive real estate and funds work.

Jackson worked in legacy Herbert Smith’s commercial disputes team between 2001 and 2003 before she moved to a management role.

The firm’s litigation leadership was reshuffled this past year after former litigation chief Sonya Leydecker stepped into the CEO role along with Mark Rigotti (19 December 2013). D’Agostino took up the global dispite head role, stepping down from his role as Greater China head on 1 May, and will serve a four-year term.

Belfast is a hot centre for firms hcoosing to launch global support units. Most recently Baker & McKenzie opened a global sevices centre in the region, adding to its Manila base which launched in 2000 (27 August 2014).

Bakers plans to support transactional practices and large litigation mandates from the Ireland base with around 200 members of staff.