In February, the magic circle law firm reportedly revealed it was consulting with staff on plans to acquire office space of up to 100,000 sq ft in Manchester city centre.
The firm is now in talks to sign a deal to take on up to 40,000 sq ft of space as a holding position while it negotiates cheaper rents with the developers of a number of new builds due for completion in 2016. The letting agreement is understood to contain a break clause at the one-and-a-half year mark, allowing the firm to move to a permanent home in the northern city in 2017.
The decision has been described as “smart” by some agents close to the Manchester commercial lettings market, as it gives the firm a wider choice of options from the buildings currently under construction in the city centre.
Arndale House is a 1970s 23-storey office building accessed through the Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre. The Lawyer reports that back office staff such as IT and payroll are expected to be moved initially, with other departments to follow later. Aspects of legal work could also be located in Manchester by 2017, it is understood.
Lawyer and staff numbers at Freshfields have been rising in the last three years, with total headcount increasing in 2013/14 to 4,589 from 4,491 the previous year. Around 2,500 of this number are based in London. In 2013/14 the firm employed 2,115 lawyers.
The move to open legal and support offices in Manchester follows a trend of ‘northshoring’ over the last couple of years (2 February 2015). Last year Berwin Leighton Paisner opened a back office function on King Street in Manchester, which is expected to reach 100 staff in 2015.
In January, Latham & Watkins announced it would also open a business service office in the city.