Awards preview: in-house commerce & industry team of the year

On 22 June, 1400 people will crowd into the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane for the most eagerly-awaited event of the year. With only one week to go, The Lawyer brings you a sneak preview of the shortlisted individuals and teams


Amec

Michael Blacker heads the 10-strong legal team at Amec, an international engineering services giant. The team has been involved in a diverse range of projects over the year, helping shape new relationships with clients and reflecting the company’s commitment to partnering and creating alliances. In the oil and gas sector, this involved legal work on the design, fabrication and completion of an offshore floating production facility. In the UK, Amec’s activities in the wind energy sector saw the successful conclusion of a number of wind farm projects, while in PFI, work continued on a variety of sectors such as health, education, roads and light rail. Internationally in PFI, the legal team has been active in work on the Incheon Bridge in South Korea and a light railway transit project at Vancouver Airport.

Aon

Aon’s 11-strong legal division is an example of company cohesion at its best. Over the past year, Jane Owen’s team has shown a commitment to in-house secondment. Aon lawyers have moved into Aon business units, while three lawyers have gone on management training programmes, reflecting the importance placed on career development within the company. Members of the division have also been involved in delivering lunchtime seminars to Aon staff in order to raise the department’s profile and encourage awareness of technical legal issues. The legal team has also been vigilant in dealing with disputes by means of negotiations and mediations, with the result that less than 6 per cent of disputes ever go to litigation.

Benfield Group

2003 proved to be a significant year for the Benfield Group, and its legal team was kept busy working on the company’s initial public offering (IPO) in June. The flotation included the formation of a new holding company in Bermuda, internal reorganisation and the introduction of employee incentive plans in 24 countries. The IPO proved to be a success and was valued at £650m. Additionally, the team, headed by group legal counsel Derek Walsh, completed several acquisitions (two without external input) and the settlement of a $180m (£92.8m) class action in the US. Benfield’s legal department consists of 10 lawyers, with 10 support staff split between London and Minneapolis.

Sainsbury’s

In an attempt to step out of the doldrums, J Sainsbury radically restructured its 14-strong legal department. The new model, which came into effect at the beginning of April, sees the department – led by David Thurston – structured with a view to serving stores. As a result, it has been split into three teams: advisory, real estate and operations. The work was varied and demanding: negotiating with with Shell to site stores in garage forecourts; commercial work on the Nectar loyalty card; contractual negotiations with Jamie Oliver; competition issues; and a massive logistical project in overhauling and replacing the supermarket’s distribution centres.

Powergen

Powergen’s biggest deal last year was the purchase of Midlands Electricity in October, which was completed in only two weeks with a value of £1.146bn. The legal team, though, comprises just 12 lawyers, led by general counsel and company secretary Fiona Stark. Stark advises the Powergen board and the lawyers also work in a number of senior management posts. These include the health & safety and commercial managers in the renewables business. Powergen’s in-house team works with external lawyers regularly, but instructs barristers directly.

RAC Legal Services

The RAC legal team has led the debate on the deregulation of the legal profession for the past two years and is the first to prepare concrete plans for the event. The RAC team believes that legal practices should be allowed to be owned, or partly owned, by non-solicitors. This, of course, is the concept that has been dubbed ‘Tesco Law’, but it is the RAC that has announced real plans to launch RAC Law. Currently, the RAC is only allowed to offer members advice on personal injury cases, but it would like to offer advice on property law, wills and probate, and has set in motion efforts to recruit 150 lawyers to achieve this.

Thales Corporate Services

The 23-strong Thales UK legal team is part of the larger Thales Group, numbering 170. Led by Jean-Yves Haagen, the department does 95 per cent of the UK group’s legal work, outsourcing the rest, and is split into two teams, ‘corporate legal’ and ‘business group legal’. Lawyers working in the latter are embedded on-site in operating companies. Significant work recently includes working on Thales’ successful bid to win the contract for the Ministry of Defence’s ‘Future Integrated Soldier Technology’ (Fist) Assessment. The team runs regular internal legal seminars for the non-legal Thales community.