Leeanne Whaley and George McKinney
UK telecoms giant BT is tapping into regional development funding to launch a legal hub in Belfast employing up to 30 commercial lawyers.
The four-year investment of £2.7m was unveiled today by BT and regional development agency Invest Northern Ireland, which is providing an additional £240,000, with the new hub representing the latest stage of an ongoing review of how BT sets up its legal team.
Invest Northern Ireland calculates that once in place the roles will contribute nearly £1.4m of additional annual salaries towards the local economy.
The legal hub will provide advice across BT, which embarked on a three-year plan in May 2018 to deliver £1.5bn of savings with the loss of 13,000 jobs in back office and middle management roles as part of plan to make it more competitive.
Seven of the new legal positions are already in place with the hub expected to grow to 30 over the next four years.
Leeanne Whaley, transformation director for legal and company secretary, said: “Northern Ireland offers highly educated and experienced legal talent so it was an ideal choice to set up our new hub here and we at BT are excited to recruit this talent into our legal team.”
George McKinney, director of technology and services at Invest Northern Ireland, added: “Northern Ireland is increasingly being recognised as a leading location for innovation in the legal sector. Our teams in Northern Ireland and Great Britain worked closely with BT to secure this investment by offering expert insight into our growing legal services sector and the talent we have to offer, along with financial support for the new jobs.”
The creation of the new hub follows a high-profile, five-year deal struck last year by the legal department to transfer a 43-strong insurance and real estate team to top 50 UK law firm DWF’s managed legal services arm.
General counsel Sabine Chalmers said at the time the move was part of a strategy of "transforming and simplifying the way we work across BT". A similar philosophy was behind BT's sale of its legal tech business Tikit in March to UK software and business services company Advanced.
In recent years, Invest Northern Ireland has helped several law firms, legal departments and alternative legal services suppliers set up regional bases in Belfast. They include Citi, Herbert Smith Freehills, Allen & Overy, Axiom Law and Baker McKenzie.
According to the agency, operating costs in the region for a legal services centre are typically 50% lower than in London and 40% less than in New York, while it estimates there is an annual surplus of 500 law graduates.