Hogan Lovells offices at 555 13th Street, NW in Washington, D.C. October 25, 2016.
(Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Hogan Lovells is poised to shed or move up to 90 jobs in London to a pair of back office operations centers.

The review will affect around 78 business services roles and 12 legal support positions, which will either be cut or transferred to business services centers operated by Hogan Lovells in Birmingham, England, and Johannesburg, South Africa, both of which were launched in 2014.

On Monday, Hogan Lovells began a consultation process with London employees whose roles will be affected by the plan. Hogan Lovells’ Johannesburg center employs around 110 staff in areas such as conflicts, finance, marketing and business development and technology, while its Birmingham base currently has around 70 employees.

Hogan Lovells said in a statement that the decision had been taken as part of a move to “build on the firm’s increased use of advanced technologies and legal project management.”

“This is part of our strategy to evolve our firm so it continues to meet our business needs as well as those of our clients in a rapidly changing and highly competitive market,” said Hogan Lovells deputy CEO David Hudd, who earlier this month had his leadership term extended by two years. “We are fully committed to ensuring that our people are treated fairly and are fully supported throughout this process.”

Hogan Lovells’ Birmingham services center started in 2014 with a 20-lawyer team initially put together to carry out lower-end work delegated from London, such as due diligence and document review. Earlier that year the firm also announced it was launching a business services center in Johannesburg to focus on conflict checks, due diligence and research.

Last year those back office bases were supplemented by the launch of a $9 million global business services center in Louisville handling billing, technology support and conflict checks.

“This is the logical next step to take in the development of our practice in the U.K.” said Susan Bright, Hogan Lovells’ U.K. and Africa regional managing partner. “In Johannesburg we have built a very well-integrated team which partners with our other global business services center in Louisville.”

Bright, an antitrust expert who serves on the firm’s international management committee, added that since Hogan Lovells set up shop in Birmingham three years ago, the firm has been able to build a “consistently profitable and strong qualified lawyer and paralegal capability,” as well as handle “increasingly complex cross-jurisdictional corporate and commercial, litigation, real estate and real estate finance” matters. She noted that the firm’s legal services center specializes in large due diligence and document review exercises, having handled major projects for Hogan Lovells clients in the U.K. and around the world.

“This step involves us expanding Birmingham to provide an alternative U.K. base for business services,” she said. “Birmingham, Johannesburg and Louisville are great assets and we are now increasing the range of services offered from each, capitalizing on our successful investments in technology and legal project management.”

In addition to its U.K. restructuring, Hogan Lovells is also offering voluntary redundancy to U.S. business services staff who have been at the firm for more than five years.

Hogan Lovells said this is partly in response to requests it has had from a number of business services members to undertake early retirement, adding that the process enables the firm “to look again at our business services roles and where we deliver those services from … to give us an opportunity to accelerate how we deliver our business services operations in the U.S. and globally.”

The restructuring by Hogan Lovells comes after London-based legal giant Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer offered voluntary redundancy to all of its London secretarial staff at the beginning of the year, a move expected to affect roughly 180 individuals.

All of the Magic Circle firm’s London personal assistants were offered a choice of taking voluntary redundancy; applying to be considered for a better-paid executive assistant role with increased responsibilities; or stay in their current roles.

Last week, Pinsent Masons kicked off its own redundancy consultation, one that put all of its U.K. legal personal assistants at risk, with up to 100 jobs on the chopping block. The exercise is set to be completed by the end of November.

In August, another large U.K. firm, BLM, cut 50 jobs from its secretarial and direct support staff ranks following a redundancy consultation that began in June. The redundancy consultation, a somewhat Orwellian-sounding process, is a mechanism used in the U.K. for employers to enter into with employees ahead of proceeding with potential layoffs.