Freshfields is doubling its office space in Manchester

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Magic circle giant gets serious about northshoring trainee-level work


Freshfields‘ new strategy of sending basic legal work up north is moving to the next level — with the firm doubling its office space in Manchester.

The venerable corporate outfit only arrived in the UK’s legal process outsourcing capital in spring, but so successful has its time been in the city that it has just put pen to paper on 80,000 sq ft of space in One New Bailey, a new development on the edge of business district Spinningfields.

Eagle-eyed legal market watchers will note that the new office is twice the size of Freshfields’ current Manchester office, located above the rather less glamorous Arndale shopping centre, which is just 40,000 sq ft. The firm will make the switch between the premises in early 2017.

Make no mistake, this is significant.

Manchester is currently buzzing with legal sector innovation, led by firms including Berwin Leighton Paisner, Addleshaw Goddard and DWF. Among this group there is a start-up spirit, with manager-led teams of paralegals working separately to the rest of the firm — often on short term contracts — on trainee and junior lawyer-level work that is sent up from head offices in London.

Each time the work comes in, strategists tinker with delivery methods to maximise efficiency as the paralegals — many of whom are recent law graduates from the local area — use specially designed templates to complete trainee and junior lawyer-level work with only basic training.

If you are a boss, being among all this is thrilling. But it’s less fun if you’re one of the grinders, desperately hoping that what you’re doing could lead to a training contract.

The arrival of Freshfields earlier this year as the first magic circle firm in Manchester was a big deal, setting the city alive with gossip that there was about to be a paralegal pay war amid a shortage of labour. That has never happened — there are a lot of jobless graduates around these parts.

Instead, Legal Cheek understands that the firm’s eyes have been opened to the huge possibility to save cash that exist by sending low-level legal and non-law tasks outside London — with the success of the last few months evidenced in the decision to double office space.

Playing things cool, Anup Kollenathu, the boss of Freshfields’ Manchester operation — dubbed its ‘Global Services Centre’ — commented:

One New Bailey gives us both the high quality and attractive location we want for our staff. The developer has granted us valuable flexibility to adapt, up or down, the amount of space that we would occupy to reflect the evolving needs of our clients’ and our business.

Freshfields offers 80 training contracts each year, all in London. This figure is down from a pre-financial crisis high of around 100. Don’t expect numbers to increase in the capital any time soon while the firm is expanding up north.



“But it’s less fun if you’re one of the grinders, desperately hoping that what you’re doing could lead to a training contract.”

This is the problem. Paralegalling for an MC in Manchester will likely give you more money in your pocket overall than a trainee in London. It also gives you useful exposure to go out and find jobs in legal fields with clients – legal departments have numerous people on decent money (well above the national average) doing various kinds of quasi-legal work.

Many people will never get a training contract. We need to be honest with them, and they need to be honest with themselves. Being a solicitor is not some magic piece of paper that makes your life better – it is a useful qualification that allows you to be responsible for certain things. But it is not really necessary for a lot of work.



Hear hear. LC tends to bizarrely flog the hell out of paralegals as if it was a bad word – I know folks in the City who earn more than many regional (and even some City) trainees whilst maintaining a more decent work-life balance and effectively partaking on the same stuff as their ‘higher ranked’ TC colleagues.

Obviously, there is no NQ pay bump like a trainee will get after two years of ball breaking, but it still is by all means a decent career which will earn you £ + plenty of relevant, transferable skills. Heck, whenever I see most of the paras leave our office at 6pm while I’m facing at least a 10pm+ sesh, I sometimes wish it was me.



Exactly. I know a couple of former paras who took pay cuts when they started their TCs – and this in the City with good firms. If you are lucky, a para job can be £32-£40k.

Obviously lots will earn more like £24k. And if they are getting paid £20k then that’s probably a bit off. But to be honest, £24k will get you a hell of a lot further in Manchester than £32k will get you in London.

People need to be taught about the massive number of good jobs that are available in the legal world without qualification. My legal dept is maybe only 50% lawyers. Obviously the lawyers get paid better, but the negotiators, reviewers, project managers etc don’t exactly struggle for cash.



North shoring is here to stay.

There will be improved prospects of the young uns buying a house in Manchester than London too.



Either that or it’ll push the house prices up


City paralegal/future trainee

Agree with above RE work life balance and some paralegal pay in the City being above trainees but what about job satisfaction? If you have set your sights on being a solicitor who wants to be a paralegal for the rest of their life? You can’t compare the work that a paralegal does with that of a Senior Associate. Plus once you qualify and climb the ladder up to below partner level say you really couldn’t go back to the wage or the work of a paralegal!



Just to clarify, what will be sent to Manchester is paralegal level work that trainees and junior associates are fed up of having to do (and clients are fed up of paying them to do) in an attempt to stop said trainees jumping ship when they qualify, and juniors jumping ship more generally, in hope of finding firms (or other careers) where they don’t have to do the commodified drudgery.

And there’s nothing wrong with being a paralegal, and they may well earn more than a trainee, but there is very limited career progression. Now obviously note every trainee climbs the greasy pole, but the business model is predicated on getting youngsters to sign up for hard work on the promise of quite a lot of jam today, and a hell of a lot of jam tomorrow…


MC Lawyer

It’s significant in the sense that Freshfields is the oldest and probably the most powerful corporate outfit in London….And it’s probably beneficial to the chosen few with Freshfields training contracts.
They are a little late to the game though as every other MC firm already outsources this stuff.



Can L.C. please stop using ‘lawyer’ when they mean solicitor!!
We are not America for goodness sake and you manage to distinguish between paralegals and other legal professionals (by which you actually mean solicitors).


London lawyer

I suspect the elite US firms will be pleased by this. After all how easy is it to flag to clients that their work is going to be outsourced with no senior associate supervision to people who are on short term contracts and likely lack experience? Fine if your client is simply after cheaper fees, but a lot would rather pay more for a better quality of service. If someone offered me the choice between a magic circle/US trainee being properly supervised at £150 per hour or a northern paralegal with a “manager” at £100 I know which I’d pick.

I also don’t see this as positive for trainees in London. Putting aside the fact they will likely slash their trainee numbers in the long run, you learn from doing the most basic tasks. It’s an important part of the development process. It’s also a reality that at times there may be less of the “juicy” work available for trainees to do, so having this kind of work available to fill the gaps etc is useful. There is nothing more dispiriting when you start out in your career than sitting there with nothing to do.



Do you have any experience of client fee pressures? Btw, a lot of the elite US firms already do this.



Do you have any experience of client fee pressures? Btw, a lot of the elite US firms already do this.


London lawyer

Yes, I do. “Fine if your client is simply after cheaper fees, but a lot would rather pay more for a better quality of service.”- this acknowledges that for some clients price is the most important thing, but that is not universal. If you’re going to a magic circle firm, you are already pretty much accepting you’ll be paying more than if you went to a mid market firm.

Please name a US firm which has set up an office in Manchester or an equivalent location and staffed it with “managers” responsible for supervising trainee/junior level work. You must know something I don’t.



What about the imminent opening of Latham & Watkins in Manchester?


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