Baker & McKenzie is to open a global services centre in Belfast, the firm’s second following its centre in Manila which it launched in 2000.
The firm has begun recruiting staff and securing premises for the new centre which is set to open for business next month.
Bakers’ global director of operations Jason Marty is relocating from Chicago to Belfast to serve as the initial executive director of the centre. It is expected the centre will include around 120 professionals by the end of its first year of operation, rising to between 200 and 250 after three years.
Bakers considered other locations including sites in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa before choosing Belfast as the best option for a variety of social, economic and business reasons.
Executive committee chair Eduardo Leite said Belfast won out because its “additional proposition” of high-quality talent allied to its infrastructure, time zone and position as a common law jurisdiction.
“Invest Northern Ireland has also been very proactive towards us, guiding us through issues such as how to recruit and offering support in many areas,” Leite said.
Leite added that the financial incentives offered to Bakers by Invest Northern Ireland were dependent on the number of jobs the firm creates over the next three years.
“The plan is 260, which would result in a contribution of around £1m,” said Leite.
The Bakers’ chairman said that a critical differentiator between Belfast and Manila would be the centre’s ability to help the firm create what he called “higher-level services” by more directly integating its services into the firm’s core practices. That is likely to see Bakers invest proportionately more in lawyers, paralegals, other fee-earners as well as senior project managers than in its Manila centre, where the focus is primarily on back office areas such as IT, billing, HR, doc support and IP support.
Bakers said it plans to build key service offerings to support transactional practices and large litigation mandates, among others. Legal professionals based there would be able to provide broad legal process support for a range of cross-border transactions, projects and disputes around the world thanks to Northern Ireland being a common law jurisdiction and English law being the law of choice for most large cross-border matters.
Global M&A head Tim Gee said the firm was planning on building global centres of excellence in Belfast in the areas of due diligence and deal closing as an integral part of the firm’s transactional team.
“Backed by project management specialists, the centres of excellence will provide integrated support to our deal teams around the world,” said Gee. “The value for clients will be better risk assessment and more efficient execution.”
Bakers said it would facilitate round-the-clock services across time zones and reduce the dependency on a single location. Initially around two-thirds of the professionals will be in business services support and one-third legal staff.
Bakers’ London managing partner Paul Rawlinson said clients wanted to work with firms that demonstrated a commitment to adapting to new challenges and were not just talking about it.
“What clients are asking for is an integrated approach that adds value through a strategic understanding of their needs, disciplined execution and smart use of talent, deploying cutting-edge technology to improve service efficiencies,” Rawlinson said.
Rawlinson added that one of the compelling reasons for choosing Belfast was the availability of a high-quality, well-educated workforce, able to support not just the EMEA region but all of Bakers’ offices across the world.
He said that he was “pretty confident” the firm would find enough of the profile of people it needs in Belfast, despite concerns raised in some quarters that the entry of rivals such as Allen & Overy (24 January 2013), Axiom (20 March 2012) and Herbert Smith Freehills (20 January 2014) is leading to a skill shortage in the province.
“We’ve done quite a lot of homework,” said Rawlinson.