London-based 'magic circle' law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has instructed Knight Frank to find a 100,000 sq ft office requirement in central Manchester.
English Cities Fund's One New Bailey on the edge of Salford is understood to be the frontrunner in a shortlist of five office blocks.
Freshfields is looking to relocate some legal and support staff from London by the end of 2016 as a cost-saving measure. If the firm agrees a deal in Manchester, the company would be the latest in a steady line of lawyers to open offices in the city, following Nabarro, Latham & Watkins, and Berwin Leighton Paisner among others.
Alongside One New Bailey, Freshfields is considering Ask Developments' 101 Embankment, Argent's One St Peter's Square, Mosley Street Venture's Two St Peter's Square, and Allied London's Cotton Building.
According to market sources, Freshfields has a rental budget of around £30/sq ft which could price it out of Manchester's prime office core in Spinningfields and St Peter's Square.
Freshfields began a consultation with staff on the move earlier this week. If a deal is agreed on One New Bailey, the firm would occupy most of the 120,000 sq ft building. Developer English Cities Fund is a joint venture between Muse Developments, Legal & General and the Homes & Communities Agency.
Freshfields told the legal media in a statement: "Following a strategic review of our operational models and business processes, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is considering a range of enhancements to our global infrastructure. We are devising this programme of change so that we can build on our tradition of providing outstanding and highly efficient service to our clients, wherever they are in the world, in an ever evolving market and technological environment."
All parties declined to comment. There are five so-called magic circle law firms, all massive global corporations based in London with more than 5,000 fee earners between them.