US firm eyes Northern Ireland launch as it agrees law course deal with HBO

US entertainment firm SmithDehn is hoping to launch its largest Europe office in Northern Ireland as it kicks off a part-time media law course in the region with client HBO.  

Game of Thrones

The firm’s founding partner Russell Smith told The Lawyer that the New York-based firm had been in negotiations with Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) to open a base in Derry/Londonderry, which would be its second base in Europe after London.

Smith said the aim would be to make the office its biggest in Europe, with a preliminary target to have 75-lawyers within five years. If the launch gets the thumbs-up Smith will relocate so that he can run the base for its first year.

Ahead of the potential launch the firm has teamed up with the University of Ulster (UU) and client HBO to launch a media law course for law graduates, which could “train recruits for a possible new office” over six Saturday classes.

Invest NI, the regional economic development agency, introduced Smith to UU’s law school head, Dr Eugene McNamee, about the course, which will run from the university’s Ulster’s Magee (Derry/Londonderry) campus. 

Smith then asked his client HBO, which has been filming Game of Thrones in the region, if their in-house lawyers would be interested in the programme.

The vice president for legal affairs at HBO, Peter Rienecker, will teach the February 2014 programme alongside HBO’s senior vice president and chief counsel for programming and marketing, Vivane Eisenberg, and the former vice president for legal affairs at Discovery, Laura Farina, who has now joined SmithDehn. Smith will lead the team.

A statement from the firm said: “The principal goal of the course is to create student employability to service the growing media and entertainment sector. The teaching will be problem-based and practical, with an aim to create a “work-ready” group of graduates for legal services in the film, television, and sports industries.”

There’s been a rise in television and film production work in Northern Ireland over recent years, most notably with HBO’s filming of Game of Thrones. ”The demand [is growing] for legal advice and services from the media and entertainment sectors,” said Head of UU’s law department Dr Eugene McNamee. 

While there’s been a general lack of economic growth, 2012 was a surprisingly good year for corporate work in Northern Ireland. A report by Experian Corpfin shows a 36.7 per cent increase in deal volume between 2011 and 2012, as the number of deals rose from 38 to 52. Total deal value soared from £384m to £1.1bn, driven by the number of large deals rising from one to four.