Ralph Baxter's cost-saving maneuver to relocate Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe's back-office functions to a "global operations center" in Wheeling, West Virginia, was initially met with skepticism inside the Am Law 100 firm. "There was a lot of persuading of the partners that had to take place," says Baxter, the firm's former chairman. More than a decade later, Orrick estimates that it saves over $10 million a year—due in part to reduced labor and real estate costs—from efficiencies achieved through its Wheeling operations.
In 2002, the Wheeling facility opened with 70 mostly information technology, accounting, and operations jobs. Moving back-office functions to lower cost settings, whether in Brooklyn or Bangalore, wasn't a new idea. But before Orrick, no large U.S.–based law firm had so thoroughly embraced the concept.
In 2010, some eight years after Orrick's West Virginia debut, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr moved some back-office functions to Dayton. Last year, Pillsbury opened its own global operations center in Nashville. Today, as many as a half-dozen Am Law 200 firms have relocated back-office operations to lower cost areas.Orrick continues to refine its Wheeling strategy. The facility now houses 300 firm employees, including 47 attorneys in a career associate program launched in 2011. These lawyers perform many of the same tasks as traditional junior-level associates but are not on the firm's partnership track. "As a firm, we're more open-minded to change," Baxter says, "and much of that is due to the global operations center."