Norton Rose grapples with team transfer

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The continuing global focus of law firms has seen an increasing number of lawyers relocating to different offices, throwing up a raft of HR issues.

Different jurisdictions, for instance, have an assortment of local employment rules that law firms have to contend with. There are also intricate internal problems, such as providing lawyers with the right package to entice them to change offices.

Norton Rose is a case in point. The firm has kick-started a rapid expansion of its Middle East capabilities with the relocation of London-based projects partner Jonathan Brufal to its Abu Dhabi office (The Lawyer, 19 May) . It has also transferred a seven-strong competition team from Brussels and London to Hong Kong (The Lawyer, 6 May).

The firm’s HR director David Simons, who is himself moving to the Middle East, says there is a general formula when it comes to making moves, but it needs to be adapted and tailored to the specific individual.

“There are two types of transfers: those who want to move for personal reasons and those who are asked to move,” explains Simons. “The first doesn’t happen very often and where this is the case they won’t receive assistance from us, but for the others we need to offer them a package that will make sure they don’t lose out by transferring.”

Simons says that, when a lawyer is relocated, it tends to be for at least a two to three-year secondment and will depend on the local regime as to how the actual move can be carried out.

“One issue is pay,” says Simons. “More often than not it will be paid in the local currency and when it comes to tax every local regime has a different structure, so we need to change a lawyer’s salary to compensate for that tax change.”

Simons gives the example of the Middle East, where there is zero tax, which he says needs to be taken into account when organising individuals’ packages.

The seven-lawyer competition team’s move to Hong Kong will be a template for future lawyers’ transfer to the Middle East as Norton Rose expands its operations in the jurisdiction.

Competition partner Marc Waha, who was originally based in Brussels, was the first to relocate to Hong Kong, with his team following in due course.

“Each lawyer has different needs, so organising packages will vary depending on the individual, not the team,” explains Simons.

Other factors also come into play when relocating teams, such as organising living accommodation and office reorganisations to house the new lawyers during work hours. All of this can be a logistical nightmare and so takes time.

The number of lawyers that will follow Brufal to the Middle East is undecided, but with Norton Rose looking to increase its partner count from six to 16 and escalate associate numbers from 30 to around 100, a raft of transfers is on the cards.

For Norton Rose, relocating lawyers is about ensuring the lawyers do not lose out. “It’s a general principle,” says Simons, “and is the core to getting it right.”