Film and TV US firm SmithDehn opens up in Northern Ireland after HBO media course launch

US entertainment firm SmithDehn has opened in Northern Ireland, months after it kicked off a media law course in the region with client HBO. 

The New York-based firm had been in negotiations with Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) to open up in Londonderry since October, with its launch in the area marking its second outpost in Europe after London. 

SmithDehn’s founding partner Russell Smith told The Lawyer last year that the aim would be to make the Northern Ireland office its biggest in Europe, with a preliminary target of having 75-lawyers within five years (17 December 2013).

The firm was thought to be scouting for potential recruits when it launched a media law course alongside HBO in February. Invest NI initially introduced Smith to the University of Ulster’s law school head, Dr Eugene McNamee, in relation to the part-time course (17 December 2013). 

The vice president for legal affairs at HBO, Peter Rienecker, taught the 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 recently joined SmithDehn.

It is not known if any graduates who attended the course have now been hired by SmithDehn Northern Ireland, which will work in partnership with US film company Social Construct Media. Smith is now the CEO of the media business, with both outfits operating in partnership on the same street in Londonderry.

There has been a rise in television and film production work in Northern Ireland over recent years, most notably with HBO’s filming of TV series Game of Thrones.   

While there has been a general lack of economic growth, 2012 was a surprisingly good year for corporate work in Northern Ireland. A report by Experian Corpfin showed 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.

Smith said in a statement: “Our film and television course in Derry has been a wildly successful experiment. It has proven to us that in and around Derry and the Northwest of Ireland, there is an amazing supply of under-utilised talent. We want a European front office, not a back office.”

One of the firm’s highest-profile clients is Ali G star Sasha Baron Cohen, whom the firm defended in a high-profile libel case in 2009.