Daniela Baker: Honda UK

Daniela Baker’s belief in her ability helped her land the role of Honda UK company solicitor. But she is showing the company that it made the right choice. By Malar Velaigam

Honda entered the motor industry in 1948, with its UK operations kicking off in London in the 1960s. The company has now grown to include more than 450 subsidiaries and affiliates globally and has also secured the title of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.

Honda UK company solicitor Daniela Baker oversees all legal matters related to Honda’s UK operations, which include dealerships, sponsorships and day-to-day company-related matters, such as employment and standard practices.

Baker took the reins of the department following the departure of Honda’s previous head of legal Christopher Morgan in October last year (www.thelawyer.com, 9 October 2006). At the time Baker, who had been seconded to Honda UK from DLA Piper for almost a year, stepped up and expressed her interest in the newly vacant position.

“I told them that I knew I was not as qualified as the lawyer they were looking for, but I wanted a shot,” says Baker. “When I was with DLA most of my time was spent working at Honda, so I knew the business, I knew what was expected of the legal function.”

Baker obviously impressed and signed up as Honda’s company solicitor last April. Although she reports to Honda UK’s head of HR and legal Pauline Wiseman, she stresses that she is the one who effectively runs the legal function.

“I am certainly the decision-maker,” says Baker. “I set the budget, decide which firms to use and report back to senior management at the end of the year.”

Her remit includes managing the legal capability of the motor company with regard to Honda’s UK operations, which comprise Honda Finance, a motor loans and insurance unit, and parts trading and printing arm Honda Trading.

“Pauline is my manager, but is not a lawyer,” Baker explains. “She looks after HR, facilities and employee development. I don’t know anywhere else where the general counsel reports to HR, but it seems to work here.”

Baker’s work typically centres on contracts and with more than 50 sponsors and suppliers; she spends the bulk of her time drawing up sponsorship and supplier agreements.

“I’m currently examining the company’s car dealership network, which involves looking at the strategy for local market area and then working on the tender document for the revised dealership agreement,” she says, adding that Honda UK has more than 197 car dealerships nationwide.

Honda UK’s motorcycle business has also shifted to a new storage network called Solaris, which requires distributors to sell the company’s bikes in separate dedicated showroom areas. Due to this, Baker is drawing up revised agreements for some 119 motorcycle dealerships.

That is not the only change seen during Baker’s time as company solicitor. She has also established a prescribed dawn raid procedure, and has been working on corporate social responsibility measures and launching a diversity statement for Honda alongside a revised staff handbook later this month.

In her six months heading the legal unit, she has also tweaked Honda’s external panel, which now includes both her previous firms, Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS) and DLA Piper at the expense of McDermott Will & Emery. “I use those firms [DWS and DLA Piper] as I know who the key people are and the best person for the job,” says Baker.

At present Baker uses DLA Piper for all IP work, and cites partners Simon Levine and Neville Cordell as her IP lawyers of choice. DLA Piper is also brought in to advise on infringement, advertising and general commercial litigation matters.

“DLA Piper takes up most of our legal spend,” admits Baker. “We outsource all litigation work as we simply don’t have the resources to do it in-house.”

The firm is currently acting for Honda on an infringement proceeding that has been filed against UK-based motorbike importer KJM Superbikes for the parallel import of bikes from Australia. Associate Michael Anderson is leading the case, which has now been ongoing for more than a year.

Another of Baker’s former employers, DWS, is used for Honda UK’s employment law tribunals and data protection work. The firm is also assisting the motor company on its revised dealership agreements with their existing dealers.

“We also bring DWS in for internal training, audit and other general advice,” adds Baker.

Wragge & Co advises on matters related to Honda Finance, but Baker is planning on strengthening the relationship and using the firm more often in future. She tends to liaise with partner Paula Laird. For property work, Baker appoints Taylor Wessing and US firm Dorsey & Whitney, with the work divided between the two firms.

Dorsey & Whitney is also consulted on Financial Services Authority-related matters stemming from Honda Finance, while Taylor Wessing is instructed on most construction claims.

When she’s not revamping contracts or drawing up standard procedures, Baker spends her time zipping around in a Honda Civic Executive, courtesy of the company.

“I can change my car to a new Honda every six months,” she beams, adding that she will be switching to a brand-new CRV soon.

Name: Daniela Baker
Organisation: Honda UK
Title: Company solicitor Sector: Automotive
Reporting to: Head of HR and legal Pauline Wiseman
Turnover: £1.6bn
Number of employees: 380
Legal capability: Three (including one secondee)
Legal spend: £300,000
Main law firms: DLA Piper, Denton Wilde Sapte, Taylor Wessing, Dorsey & Whitney (US), Wragge & Co

Daniela Baker’sCV
Education: 1997-2000: BSc (Hons) Law & Politics, Southampton University 2001-02: LPC, College of Law, London
Work history: 2002-05: Trainee, Denton Wilde Sapte 2005-06: Assistant solicitor, DLA Piper 2006-present: Company solicitor, Honda UK