Freshfields is doubling its office space in Manchester

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By Alex Aldridge on

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.