Law firm operations center to bring 250 jobs to Lexington

By next spring, a global law firm plans to open an operations center in Lexington that will offer 250 high-paying jobs.

Local and state officials announced the project from Bingham McCutchen LLP on Wednesday and called it a game changer for Lexington, particularly at a time when Lexmark International is cutting 350 full-time jobs and 200 contractors here.

"It's good timing. It's clearly good timing," said Mayor Jim Gray. "More than anything, it represents and reflects the competitive advantage our city has with great people, great educational opportunities and great quality of life."

The office will take the entirety of the former IBM building at the University of Kentucky's Coldstream Research Campus along Newtown Pike.

In a statement, Boston-based Bingham McCutchen said the site will bring together administrative support staff positions from a range of departments, including finance, human resources, information technology, marketing and operations.

"After 15 years of significant growth by combinations, we are consolidating our operations model to more efficiently support our lawyers around the world and, in turn, provide better service to our national and global client base," Chairman Jay Zimmerman said in a statement. "For Bingham, Lexington is an excellent fit. I am impressed by the vitality of the city, the warmth of the people and the business-friendly environment."

The 250 employees will include some relocating from Bingham offices and others hired from the Lexington area. A company spokeswoman said it's too soon to know how many might be hired locally.

Mark Klender, a consultant with Deloitte who worked with Bingham on site selection, said the company "is being conservative with the 250 headcount."

The law firm has about 1,000 lawyers and more than 900 support staff in 14 offices in the United States, Europe and Asia.

In documents prepared for the state government, the company said the average hourly wage, including benefits, for the jobs is $37.

The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority approved $6.5 million in state tax incentives for the company.

In general, when a company accepts the tax incentive, it can keep that amount of money, which it would otherwise pay in taxes, assuming it fulfills the terms of the deal.

The $6.5 million represents a significant amount of the $22.5 million the company says it will cost to establish the operations center. That figure includes building improvements, start-up costs and rent for 10 years, according to a statement. The site is expected to open in April 2013 with work being transferred to it continuing through the spring of 2014.

Klender told the KEDFA board that the company initially looked at 300 cities for the global services center. That list was narrowed to three cities with Lexington the smallest.

Bingham looked at factors including labor force, real estate costs and quality of life. Lexington's diversity and quality of life "absolutely tilted it" in Lexington's favor, Klender said. Representatives from Bingham visited Lexington twice in the past six months. Gray hosted representatives twice at his downtown home, he said.

"I've always believed people do business with people they like," the mayor said. "I think these people liked Lexington.

"We can get caught up in a lot of numbers and data and sometimes forget that business decisions are still often about relationships."

The tax incentives approved Wednesday were also key to bringing Bingham to Kentucky, Klender said. The other two cities offered similar incentive packages.

The announcement drew praise from business leaders around the city.

"This is a very great opportunity for us to provide good quality jobs and also grow our economy and quality of life around companies like this," said Bob Quick, CEO of Commerce Lexington. "This is a big deal, and we're pretty excited."