WilmerHale moving support staff to Ohio

By Amanda Becker
Monday, May 3, 2010

WilmerHale announced last week it was relocating its administrative support base to a new campus in Dayton, Ohio, as it seeks to streamline internal business operations across its many offices.

When the business services center opens in September, it will house the majority of the firm's technical support, finance, document services, new business clearance and human resources staff. Firm officials expect the move will affect just over 100 employees who currently work in the firm's Boston, New York or Washington, D.C., offices.

"One of our goals was to try to have all of those functions located near each other rather than spread out among our three East Coast offices," said Co-Managing Partner William J. Perlstein.

In 2004, D.C.-based Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering merged with Boston-based Hale and Dorr to create the 1,100-attorney firm that is now called WilmerHale. The firm is jointly managed by two managing partners, one based in each of the firm's headquarters in Boston and the District. Perlstein said as the combined firm continued to grow, it made economic sense to streamline its support operations.

"Now that we're six years into our merger and the firm is continuing to grow and open new offices, the question became: 'What's the best way to provide service to all of those offices?' " Perlstein said. "Our clients are very interested in keeping costs down as much as possible."

Eventually, the Dayton campus will have around 190 employees, whether they are current workers who transfer to Ohio or new hires who are recruited locally. Perlstein said the firm worked with a consultant to identify possible locations that were both a short flight from WilmerHale's largest offices and had a workforce skilled in finance, technology and law -- eventually he expects the business center will develop the resources to provide on-site document review as well.

WilmerHale isn't the first major U.S. law firm to decide that what industry analysts call "onshore outsourcing" makes sense. In 2005, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe announced that its word processing, transcription and document services work would be managed by professional services firm Williams Lea out of an Orrick facility in Wheeling, W.Va. Perlstein said he'd heard about the Wheeling venture in detail from friend and Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter.

"We're very familiar with the Orrick center, and it caused us to think about it," Perlstein said.

Industry experts say onshore outsourcing first started among Britain's leading London firms, which grapple with increasingly expensive real estate. Firms in the states are just beginning to experiment with the arrangement after successfully outsourcing certain functions overseas.

"It's a growing trend, and it's certainly more developed in the United Kingdom; the reason is mainly because London is incredibly expensive, so it doesn't make sense to have back office operations there," said Michael D. Bell, managing principal at legal management consultancy Fronterion.

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