Exclusive: Herbies mulls sending Aussie disputes work to Belfast

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has launched a pilot scheme to explore how its Belfast office could support the firm’s Australian disputes practice.  


The plan has been on the cards since 2012, when the firm started to investigate the extent to which the firm’s offering in Belfast might be able to support Australia (19 November 2012). 

The purpose of the pilot – originally expected to go ahead a year ago – is to see if time differences and language barriers could be overcome in the long run. The review kicked off this month and is expected to conclude in April, when a number of options, including the launch of another document review centre, will be discussed. 

Belfast office director Libby Jackson told The Lawyer: “It’s early days. That said, I am pleased that the pilot is going very well so far.  The legal and technology teams in Australia and Belfast are working effectively across the time zones and we are not experiencing any latency or performance issues from a technology perspective. 

“The teams are enjoying working together. The Belfast office is of course already a global offering – in fact we have just completed an urgent document review for the Hong Kong office, so we’re drawing on that existing global experience.”

The pilot is linked to a confidential disputes matter being led by the firm’s Sydney office.

“We began working with the legal team in Sydney in December 2013 to scope the pilot and by mid-December it was confirmed,” Jackson added. 

“When the pilot concludes, there will be a review of the project from both the Australian and Belfast perspectives, to inform us with regard to our global strategy in relation to offering our clients cost-competitive, innovative solutions for commoditised legal services. 

“Our Belfast office has been such a success with clients that we are committed to considering all options to develop our offering, which may include opening another office like Belfast somewhere else in the world.”

Legacy Herbert Smith launched its Belfast office in 2011 to focus on reviewing and analysing case documents (24 November 2011) and initially shared £3m of public money from Invest Northern Ireland with Allen & Overy, which opened a support function office in the city, to help fund the launch (4 February 2011).

The firm then recieved a further £500,000 from Invest Northern Ireland after announcing it would create another 61 jobs in Belfast, in addition to the initial 26 (30 June 2011).

Herbert Smith merged with Australia’s Freehills on 1 October 2012 (28 June 2012). HSF has since confirmed the appointment of global head of disputes Sonya Leydecker and former legacy Freehills managing partner Mark Rigotti as joint chief executive officers (19 December 2013).