A&O boss vows to limit job cuts as firm transfers support function to Belfast

Allen & Overy (A&O) managing partner Wim Dejonghe has pledged to limit the number of redundancies that are likely to come about as a result of the firm’s decision to transfer up to 180 support staff to Belfast.

Wim Dejonghe
Wim Dejonghe

Dejonghe added that cutting costs was not the main driver behind the move to open up twin support and legal services operations in the Northern Irish capital, despite estimated savings of £10m over the first five years.

“I think it’s unrealistic to think that all people will relocate,” Dejonghe told The Lawyer.

He added: “I hope to limit the number of redundancies as much as possible. Obviously we do offer the opportunity [to relocate] and we’ll incentivise people to do that.”

A consultation process with staff likely to be affected will begin shortly, with details of any relocation packages yet to be worked out.

Dejonghe also defended the decision to move some support functions away from A&O’s London base, despite the projected savings.

“If the costs were the driver then we could’ve done something else, but we never wanted to compromise on quality,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we went for onshoring not offshoring and why we’re launching as an A&O office. We weren’t going to take any risks with quality.

“There’s a lot of investment involved so the cost saving will only be £10m in total over the first five years.”

As part of the project A&O will initially transfer 180 members of support staff to Belfast to deliver IT, HR, finance, business services and library functions from a single site. The legal services centre will take on some routine or less complex legal work.

As many as 250 support roles could be based in the city by 2014, with total headcount including fee-earners potentially reaching 300.

The decision to open up in Belfast mirrors a move made by Herbert Smith last year when the firm opened a support office to service its dispute resolution practice (24 November 2010).