Clifford Chance London head David Bickerton has said the recent decision to move 400 of the firm’s back office staff to a second premises in Canary Wharf was “about delivery, not money”.

The magic circle firm bucked the trend of full-service firms relocating their back office and support teams to ‘nearshore’ hubs in Belfast, Manchester or Glasgow by revealing on Friday (4 December) its staff would move just five minutes walk away.

Clifford Chance has signed a two-year lease on an open-plan office on Churchill Place, currently occupied by State Street Bank & Trust, for £37.50 per sq ft across two floors.

The decision was based on business services staff being “integral to our client delivery”, Bickerton told The Lawyer.

“The quality of people we employ in these positions is very high. We were concerned we would lose a vast number of them if we wanted to move them further afield,” he added.

The need to relocate the operations department follows the firm leasing 400,000sq ft of office space – nearly half of its 1,000,000sq ft offices – to Deutsche Bank earlier this year.

The lease contributed to Clifford Chance making a colossal £6m in operational savings this year.

Bickerton revealed the firm had considered a number of “nearshore and northshore hubs”, including Manchester, Newcastle and Prague.

“We had the debate about whether to go further afield,” Bickerton said, adding the decision to move its operations staff “round the corner” would show “how important they are to client service delivery”.

“They’re talented professionals, not interchangeable,” Bickerton said.

The staff will begin the move early next year.

The firm already has a substantial legal services centre in India, which launched in 2008. Global managing partner Matthew Layton pledged earlier this year to launch “India 2.0” in 2016.

Meanwhile magic circle rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is in the process of moving approximately 300 back office and support jobs to Manchester, having taken on a permanent £2.6m lease in new build One New Bailey in October.

The firm has begun stripping back its global support function to focus on the Manchester hub, closing its IT and helpdesk office in Germany this week.

Allen & Overy revealed in January its Belfast support centre led to a reduction in staff costs of £15m over the past few years. 

Last week The Lawyer released an indepth analysis into UK firms’ business services operations worldwide last month, which revealed DLA Piper has the highest number of support staff globally. Read a summary of the report here.