Magic circle firm to move into wizards’ building?

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has shortlisted a number of buildings in London for its potential new headquarters, including one that is the home of some fictional wizards, The Lawyer has learned.

The firm has been looking to downsize in the City since relocating its entire legal services and back office departments to Manchester last year.

Now it has emerged management has come up with a preferred list of new builds and existing buildings in London for its proposed future base. These are understood to include 100 Liverpool Street, 70 St Mary Axe and 3 Finsbury Avenue.

The firm is understood to be looking at options to rent 250,000 sq ft of space in these locations, which would see it lose a significant chunk of floor space. Freshfields currently leases around 400,000 sq ft of space on Fleet Street.

Bosses began talks on plans for the future of the London office at the start of this year, with all ideas still “up in the air”, according to a senior source at the firm.

The firm’s lease on its Fleet Street offices expires in 2021 when it will either need to relocate or sub-let around half of its current set-up.

The firm has engaged commercial real estate agent Cushman & Wakefield on its search for property in London. The agent is understood to also be helping the firm consider its options for renewing its current leases at Northcliffe House and Whitefriars.

A source in the real estate market said the firm was looking at “three or four alternatives in central London” but added Freshfields was “thinking long-term” and was “still at the stage of assessing whether it will stay in its current building”.

Should it choose to relocate, the shortlisted buildings reveal Freshfields could be keen to move closer to Liverpool Street.

The skyscraper at 70 St Mary Axe, close to the Gherkin, has been dubbed the “can of ham” for its curved design. The building is still under construction, having won planning approval in 2008 but with the build stalling a number of times since then.

Appropriately for a magic circle firm, 70 St Mary Axe is used in the novels of Tom Holt as the address of a firm of sorcerers.

Of the other shortlisted buildings, 100 Liverpool Street is soon to be occupied by UBS Bank following a rebuild that saw it combined with 8-12 Broadgate last spring.

Meanwhile, 3 Finsbury Avenue, also a UBS site, is to be torn down in favour of building a 32-storey tower with 550,000 sq ft of commercial floor space. British Land submitted the planning proposals late last year.

A spokesperson for Freshfields commented: “Our leases expire in 2021 and as you would expect the firm is exploring a number of options with regards to meeting its future space requirements post 2021.”

Freshfields’ Manchester opening saw a sizeable chunk of the firm’s UK workforce relocated away from the City for the first time. The legal services centre, which currently houses around 300 paralegals and back off staff, will move from its temporary base at Arndale House to One New Bailey in Salford later this year.

The firm has set its sights on an eventual 700-headcount office in Manchester. The Lawyer also revealed earlier this month Freshfields would open a second legal services centre by the end of 2016, with Vancouver widely expected to be its location.