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Ashurst is set to transfer a large proportion of its London support staff to a new low-cost office in Glasgow headed by high-profile former Dundas & Wilson partner Michael Polson.
The City firm expects the Scottish base to house 150 employees within the next twelve months, with some of its current 350 back-office contingent in London put in redundancy consultation as a result. All of them have been told their jobs are potentially under threat.
The move follows discussions between Ashurst and Scottish Development International (SDI), a joint venture between the Scottish Government and its economic development agencies.
SDI will give Ashurst £2.4m in public funding if it reaches 300 Glasgow staff within five years. Managing partner James Collis has described this target as “ambitious”.
Funding is determined roughly proportionate to the number of staff in the base, meaning it would likely receive in the region of £1.2m if it hits its current aim of 150 full-time equivalent roles.
The office will offer legal services carried out by up to 30 legal analysts in addition to 120 support staff. Legal analysts - a new position for the firm covering elements of trainee and paralegal roles - are not necessarily qualified lawyer but will be law graduates at the least. They will handle document review processes starting with disputes and finance initially, but the operation will spread to other departments in due course.
No lawyers will be made redundant.
The outpost will open later this calendar year. The move only affects London staff covering support areas including IT, business development, finance, HR, risk and compliance, business services and knowledge and learning. The new base will cover some services encompassing these areas.
Staff are currently being informed but no formal consultation has started yet.
Polson has been working with Ashurst since January and is understood to be joining the firm as a partner when the office launches. He stood unsuccessfully for the managing partner position at Scottish firm Dundas last year and resigned in the autumn (14 November 2012).
He was beaten in the vote by a dual ticket consisting of partners Caryn Penley and Allan Wernham.
Collis said in a statement: “The shape of the legal services market is changing and clients want their law firms to take responsibility for efficient sourcing of services without compromising on quality. We believe that our new venture in Scotland will be of great benefit to the firm and its clients. We have been looking at this for some time and, unfortunately, this has also required us to make some difficult decisions in relation to our business support services. Ultimately, however, we need to have the right people, with the right skills, doing the right work in the right location.”
Ashurst is offering London support staff the option of transferring to Glasgow, but declined to say whether salaries in Scotland would match those in London.
The firm also considered opening a low-cost base in Belfast but Collis said it chose Glasgow due to its connectedness, the quality of its graduates and the prestigious history of the legal profession.
The move makes Glasgow Ashurst’s largest office by headcount within the UK-headquartered LLP excluding London should it reach 150 roles.
The consultation with London staff will start soon and last roughly 45 days, meaning it will likely conclude in July or August.