American legal firm sets up new Belfast base to support immigration case load in US

Atlanta-based legal firm Ogletree Deakins is to recruit 78 people for base in Belfast to support its growing immigration practice in the US.

A US legal firm that specialises in employment and immigration law has set up its first base in Belfast, with plans to create 78 jobs.

Ogletree Deakins has already recruited around 25 people for the new Northern Ireland support centre, which will support the firm’s growing immigration case load in the United States.

It expects to grow to a team of 78 paralegals and administrative staff over the next three years.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Ogletree Deakins employs around 900 lawyers across 53 offices.

Some 47 of those offices are in the US, but the legal firm is increasingly growing its global footprint with bases in the Canada, Mexico, Paris, Berlin, London and now Belfast.

The company is best known in the US for its employment and labour practice, but it is increasingly supporting American businesses with visa applications for foreign nationals.

That workload has become increasingly complex following the increased scrutiny on immigration under the Donald Trump administration.

“Our immigration practice has grown significantly in recent years and it’s now about 15 per cent of what we do,” said managing shareholder Matt Keen.

“We’ve got around 100 lawyers and 200 paralegals working in that practice, and about another 100 professionals assisting them.

“With that growth, we have a need to continue to add to our paralegal ranks. And the Belfast operation will provide us with a new opportunity to have a new talent pool to add qualified trained paralegals to support that practice.”

Invest NI has offered the US group £312,000 in grant support toward the job creation. It said the 78 roles will eventually generate £1.78 million in salaries, averaging at just under £23,000 per year.

Matt Keen said the firm was attracted by the growth as a legal hub, driven by the local talent pool.

Around 600 law graduates typically walk out of the north’s universities each year.

Allen and Overy, Citi, Herbert Smith Freehills, Axiom and Baker McKenzie are among the higher profile names to set up in Belfast in recent years.

European law firm Fieldfisher has already recruited 80 people since setting up shop in Belfast during 2018, while last winter saw UK firm Gately announce 73 jobs in Belfast. BT also selected Belfast for a 30-strong legal hub last December.

Ogletree Deakins said speaking to other major firms helped sell the move to Belfast.

“As we considered it and studied it, it appeared to be a good opportunity for us,” said Mr Keen.

The managing shareholder said Ogletree Deakins has already a flexible working policy, but he said a permanent office base in Belfast is the likely next step.

The firm’s two dozen staff are currently working remotely, with around one day per week spent in a Glandore co-working space in Belfast.

Mr Keen said the Belfast operation could soon grow over time.

“I think as the practice continues to grow, and as we continue to get more business, I think there’s a possibility for it to grow,” he said.

“As we get more established, it is foreseeable that we might explore some other functions.”

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