In-house lawyers of the new millennium

After years of canvassing the opinions of in-house counsel for their top solicitors and barristers, the tables have turned. Claire Smith asked private practice lawyers who’s the best on the other side of the fence.

Not surprisingly, the major investment banks boast some of the most highly regarded in-house teams and are well respected by private practice.

At Morgan Stanley, head of legal and European general counsel Richard Rosenthal gets a number of recommendations for leading “an outstanding team”. Others in the team who warrant a mention are Neville Diffey, Jonathan Lloyd, Joan Ma and Susan Revelle, who is described by one leading banking lawyer as “absolutely great – effectively Rosenthal’s number two”.

The team at Nomura, led by head of legal David Meeis, is described as “one of the strongest teams among the investment banks”. Team member Catherine McLoughlin is recommended for her M&A and telecoms expertise.

At Goldman Sachs, general counsel Gregory Palm heads a highly sought-after group and is described as “someone who would definitely stand out”. Under him, Vannessa Macnair is touted as “one to watch” by a number of City lawyers.

Finally, Citibank is widely recommended by senior banking partners. In-house lawyer Laurie Adams “has been well known for a long time and people think highly of him”, while the more junior John Collins is described as “an outstanding lawyer – if he was in private practice he would be a partner easily because he’s a natural banking lawyer”.

Among the property companies there are very few in-house legal teams, although a couple get frequent mentions from the leading property practitioners.

Most notably, the team at the Canary Wharf Group is consistently praised – one lawyer says of group legal counsel Michael Ashley-Brown: “I have a lot of respect for him and his team. They know when they are being given good advice and when the wool is being pulled over their eyes, and they seem to give Clifford Chance a good run for their money.” Grainne Cavanagh is tipped as an “up-and-coming member of the team”.

Elsewhere, The Crown Estate has well-respected lawyers, led by David Harris and boasting the highly regarded Vivienne King. They are described as “a terrific team in the context of a government department”.

In insurance, the leading in-house teams are to be found among the big brokers, with Aon Group and Jardine Lloyd Thompson getting the most commendations. Jane Owen, group legal adviser at Aon, is described as “a well recognised figure in insurance circles” and “has got a good team under her”.

At Jardines, group legal director Vyvienne Wade is tipped as “very experienced in the field” and “very impressive”.

Bob Britton at Hiscox Insurance is “held by everyone in very good regard” and one leading insurance lawyer says: “He deals with difficult claims and is an excellent chap.”

When it comes to the telecoms companies, Cable & Wireless gets plenty of praise, boasting a “very good general counsel” in the shape of Daniel Fitz.

At MCI WorldCom, general counsel Stuart Blyth heads a “very strong team” including Anna McKibbin and Peter Waters – “They are all very good,” says one top telecoms lawyer.

Group general counsel Alan Whitfield leads the team at BT “very well”. One solicitor says: “It is extremely well run and it has got extensive strength and depth. Whitfield stands out as being exceptionally good as the head.” The more junior Philip Bramwell, chief counsel of the corporate development team, is mentioned more than once as being “very strong”.

Finally, the team at Vodafone, led by company secretary and head of legal Stephen Scott, is described as “a relatively small in-house team doing very good work”.

In the media market, BBC Films is recommended as a very well run team. Head of legal and business affairs Gretta Finer is the daughter of Arnold Finer, the founding partner of Finers Stephens Innocent, and is described as “an excellent media lawyer”. Team member Livy Sandler also stands out in the eyes of many lawyers questioned.

At Film Four, director of business affairs Andrew Hildebrand leads a group described as “flexible and able to turn things round very quickly. They are skilled at negotiating and have a good understanding of when they can negotiate and when they need to go back to people”.

Among the larger corporate clients the most respected individuals are not surprisingly in the most renowned teams.

Working with general counsel Michael Herlihy at ICI, company secretary Debjani Jash and patents lawyer Wynne Turner are tipped for greater things.

BP Amoco group general counsel Peter Bevan boasts up-and-coming lawyers in the shape of Simon Markham and Richard Bradley.

At AstraZeneca company secretary and head of legal Graeme Musker has some highly regarded assistant general counsels in the shape of Sean Grady and Tatyana May, while Richard Winter, director of group legal affairs at Bass, has the well-respected Chris Vaughan in corporate finance and planning, who is definitely one to watch.