Herbert Smith former property head Garry Hart, one of the top four planning lawyers in the City and a personal friend of Tony Blair, has resigned after 35 years at the firm to become the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's special adviser from next March.
Hart is a friend and Islington neighbour of the Blairs and Lord Irvine, and he is godfather to one of the Blairs' children. The Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) said Hart would be providing advice on the "development and presentation of policy", but critics claim his political and legal aid experience is minimal.
City lawyer John Cook, competition partner at Norton Rose, commented: "Commercial lawyers, particularly property lawyers, do not develop much of a political nose or much knowledge of constitutional public law issues."
However, Herbert Smith senior partner Edward Walker-Arnott described Hart as the "finest communicator in the firm", who had been given responsibility for handling relations with the media nearly four years ago.
Hart was one of only three departmental heads on the firm's governing council and made a name for himself acting on the City's prestigious Broadgate office development.
He joined the Labour Party this spring after acting as auctioneer at a Labour fund-raising dinner for lawyers in March.
Although he is taking a drop in salary from around £350,000 at Herbert Smith to £73,000 at the LCD, his wife, Valerie Davies, will still be providing a hefty family income as head of insolvency litigation at Norton Rose.
Now 57, Hart had been planning to retire from the firm in spring 1998 when Irvine offered him the special adviser post. He was replaced as head of property by Chris Harrison at the end of April. Herbert Smith partners remain on full equity until the retirement age of 60, and partners approaching this age are not discouraged from leaving.
One City lawyer colleague denied that Hart would be frustrated with his new job, stressing that his close friendship with Blair and Irvine would ensure that he would play a key role.