Friday, 30 March 2012

Can law firms go near shore? Oh, to be sure.

How long do you think it took the pump house at the H&W shipyard to drain the dry dock in which the Titanic (and her less famous but perfectly successful sister, the Olympic) was fitted out, from full to dry?

Remember it was 100 years ago and we are talking about 21 million gallons of water, enough to fill 172 Olympic size swimming pools or the equivalent of 168 million pints of Guinness (other Celtic stouts are available).

So, what was your guess? A week, three days, two days, 24 hours?

No, those innovative Belfast engineers of the Victorian era were able to pump all that water out in just 100 minutes!  I know, quite unbelievable.

My guide, Gail, told me not to be surprised as Belfast was home to much of histories innovation.  She reeled off a long and impressive list, which included the ejector seat and the giro copter (007 is grateful).

In legal services, Belfast has been the centre of some of the biggest relocation stories of the past couple of years.  Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith and, most recently, Axiom, have all announced the creation of back and middle office operations.  Belfast remains true to its pedigree for innovation.

There have been rumours that these high profile moves are little more than window dressing.  This is not true.  I have seen them, they are very real and they are growing.

InvestNI inform me that there are more in the pipeline and whilst some will question the potential saturation point, each job currently advertised in one of these centres has in excess of 200 highly capable applicants.

The cost differential is huge.  One (non legal) international company, with its back office operations now based in Belfast, advised me that the fully loaded cost of general accounts staff is around US$25,000 per annum.

The overhead that burdens many law firms can be greatly reduced and those whom are truly innovative will reinvest this saving to reengineer their services, to transform their delivery models and utilise technology.  The key ingredients to deliver better, cheaper and simpler legal services.

Those firms now here have made a bold step and all the evidence suggests it is paying off.

If this is the case, then it looks like Belfast have given the world another Olympic, with not a single iceberg on the horizon. 

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