Belfast Telegraph

Top local talent draws heavyweight law firm

By Clare Weir

Belfast is the next move for law firm Allen & Overy when it takes up residence in Ireland’s tallest building, the Obel tower. The right candidates will rise to the top, says new head Andrew Brammer

Cairo, Budapest or... Belfast? The chosen shortlist of top global law firm Allen & Overy, from a long list of 20.

Earlier this year the company announced that it was coming to Northern Ireland, in what will be its third biggest office anywhere in the world.

Initially there were whispers of ‘outsourcing’ but Andrew Brammer, head of Allen & Overy’s new Support Services Centre has insisted to the Business Telegraph that the vast majority of the anticipated 300 jobs will be drawn from the local workforce.

This will be no bleak outpost — indeed, the confirmation last week that the ‘Magic Circle’ practice will be taking up all available commercial space in the landmark Obel tower, currently Ireland’s tallest building, is a statement in itself.

Mr Brammer, who was seconded to Allen & Overy's New York office in 2002 to run the firm's US IT team, has moved his wife and family to a new home on the outskirts of Belfast and is no stranger to living in foreign climes.

Working for the Andersen firm, he split his time between London, Sophia, Antipolis and Chicago and also spent time in Prague.

Originally from Leeds, he said he expects that initially only a dozen London-based staff will follow his lead, but says that there will be opportunities for other employees to relocate.

But they may have local competition — he’s revealed that an advert for 130 posts, closing date today, has already attracted over 1,000 applications.

Leafing through the CVs of the candidates has confirmed for Mr Brammer that Belfast was the right choice, ahead of locations like Egypt and Hungary.

While in the past budding legal eagles would have relished the move to the Big Smoke, it seems apparent that living and working at home is the ambition of Northern Ireland graduates in 2011.

“The quality of the education and the skills of the people are what drew us here,” he said.

“The infrastructure, the proximity to London, the talent — it all works.”

Invest Northern Ireland offered £2.5m towards the move, but Mr Brammer said that the firm was not approached aggressively — Belfast was already on a shortlist of locations.

“This is not an investment we have entered into lightly, we underwent a full legal process and research was done. It was simply the best place for us to be,” he said.

“Being close to London is an added bonus in terms of communication and control.

“We have an aggressive timetable, aiming for 200 jobs in place by April 2012. We’ve established a temporary office on Cromac Street and hope to be in the Obel building by autumn.

“We chose Belfast on its merits, looking at quality, risk and cost, with the key focus on quality and risk and one of the greatest assets is its people.

“We’ve received over 1,000 applications already and judging by the CVs, we are definitely in the right place.

“Allen & Overy is a global organisation serving the world’s leading financial institutions including Citi, RBS and Deutsche Bank.

“We are under the same pressures as any other type of business, the global market for law services is changing.

“We, like any other type of company, have to offer efficiency, value for money, competitiveness for clients.

“The main focus of this new office, which will be our third biggest in the Allen & Overy network anywhere in the world, will be to provide support services, human resources, IT services, marketing, library facilities, document production.”

He said that there would be no threat to existing legal provision in Northern Ireland.

“We will not be in direct competition to the Northern Ireland legal market and we have already communicated that. In fact, if there is any work we can refer to Northern Ireland based firms, we will do so.

“The work being carried out in Belfast will be in support of our global operations, but will help bring millions to the local economy too.”

Mr Brammer said that as well as the legal expertise available in Northern Ireland, the strong IT sector was a big draw.

“We work out of 36 offices in 26 countries across the world and technology is pivotal to our business,” he said.

“The powerful IT sector in Northern Ireland was very attractive therefore. We’ll be initially looking to recruit 79 IT positions and this will be a great opportunity to work with a leading global law firm.

“There are opportunities for staff to travel and develop their careers, as I myself can attest to. Allen & Overy is well known for being a great place to work and for the way it takes care of staff. Essentially Allen & Overy is a meritocracy — if you’re good, you will rise to the top.”

Mr Brammer, who himself started out with Allen & Overy, said that the opportunities for companies in Northern Ireland are huge.

“There is great potential for big companies making investments,” he said.

“Our focus is on quality and choosing the building that we did is a reflection of that aspiration. It is an important statement for us.”

Global legal eagles with a touch of 'magic'

The 'Magic Circle' law firm - the description for London's top five legal companies - was founded in 193. Nearly 6% of the firm's revenues are now earned outside the UK and two-thirds of its work is cross-border. Last year also saw the company become the first of the global elite of law firms to open offices in Australia and Indonesia. Clients include Citi, HSBC, RBS and Deutsche Bank. In Northern Ireland, Andrew Brammer has been appointed head of Allen & Overy's Support Services Centre in its new Belfast office. He has over 14 years' experience working in IT for professional services firms. As a part of the senior management team for the global IT function at Allen & Overy, Andrew managed a 6-strong team accountable for the delivery of a portfolio of multi-million-pound technology projects. A graduate of Leeds Metropolitan University, Andrew is married with two children

Towering Ambition

Obel - the £6m, 28-storey skyscraper on Belfast's Donegall Quay - is currently Ireland's tallest building, dominating the city's skyline. Developed by the Karl Group, it includes almost 3 apartments as well as commercial space and on-site basement car parking. A coffee shop is soon to be added to the building, with completion expected by the summer. Allen & Overy is the first commercial letting for Obel, but will take up all of the available business space when it opens later this year.

Belfast Telegraph