British Airways (BA) legal director Stephen Walsh is exchanging the skies for the sea - he is leaving after 11 years of service to join Associated British Ports (ABP) as its first general counsel
Walsh is leaving his post at the end of March and will be joining ABP in April. Walsh's move ensures that Slaughter and May's position with ABP is secure. Not only is the firm BA's main corporate and competition adviser, but Walsh's new employer has used Slaughters for corporate work for many years. BA dropped its favoured corporate adviser Linklaters in favour of Slaughters in late 2000 to advise on the aborted BA-KLM Royal Dutch Airlines merger. Walsh joined BA in 1991 and was appointed legal director in 1999. He caused panic among BA's legal advisers when he consolidated the amount of firms used by BA, cutting the number from 40 to four. The core panel for BA now consists of Addleshaw Booth & Co, Andersen Legal, Slaughters and Wragge & Co. It is not confirmed whether Walsh will recruit more capability in-house once he arrives at ABP. He is likely to have an extremely active few months. It is reported that £62m worth of property and land will be sold by ABP over the next two years, including the aviation division of Amports, ABP's US subsidiary. As well as Slaughters, ABP, which has no formal panel, instructs an enormous range of legal advisers across the UK. It is not known how many are currently used, but Hill Taylor Dickinson is understood to be one of the main maritime legal advisers. Also in Southampton, Paris Smith & Randall is used for commercial property work and Bond Pearce is dealing with the year-long public inquiry into ABP's proposed development of a deep-water terminal at Dibden Bay, Southampton Water, which has another nine months to go. ABP has 21 ports throughout the UK and uses law firms in each location, as well as firms in the City. Whether Walsh will begin with a review remains to be seen. A partner at one of BA's panel firms said: "Stephen's a very able guy who wants to get more experience under his belt. He's destined for great things. He's very popular within BA and they're all very shocked at his decision." Robert Webb QC, who BA's ex Chief Executive Oficer Bob Ayling hired four years ago, remains as the airline company's general counsel. As yet, no replacement for Walsh has been announced.