Peter Judge, legal chief at One North East, has made his department an integral part of the regional development agency.
In June One North East legal chief Peter Judge scooped The Lawyer In-house Lawyer of the Year Award. At a time when the regional development agency’s (RDA) future was clouded by uncertainty, the accolade was a timely recognition of his achievements since arriving in the autumn of 2003.
It is not uncommon for in-house lawyers to brag about how they built up their legal function from scratch, but from Judge – described by one Awards judge as “a transformative and inspirational presence” – it is no empty boast.
When he joined there were only three full-time members of staff and a few temps. In fact, the legal function was very much on the fringes of the organisation.
Seven years on and there are 16 fee-earners in the team, including six lawyers, and the legal function holds a key position within the agency. It advises on projects from inception to completion and has helped forge its reputation as one of the best-performing RDAs in the UK.
The challenge when Judge took over was illustrating how the legal function could add value.
“I started by doing a lot of the work that nobody else wanted to,” he recalls. “I took over responsibility for things such as external complaints and Freedom of Information requests.
“Then, the more we proved our value, the more resources we were given to support the business. It’s not like that everywhere – I know lawyers at similar organisations who have struggled to get a secretary.”
Judge’s background was pretty much perfect for the job. He was an associate in North East firm Ward Hadaway’s corporate department between 1998 and 2002 before he left to study an LLM in International and European Law, gaining expertise in the complex world of European state funding.
Last year Judge’s ability to navigate the tricky waters of European funding was put to the test when the agency embarked on its most ambitious project – Finance for Business North East, also known as ’Jeremie’ (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises).
This saw the creation of a £125m superfund for local companies thanks to a combination of funding from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Investment Bank.
Judge’s work has become associated so closely with the field that the superfund structure is now known in Westminster as the ’Judge model’. He now receives regular requests to share his knowledge with RDAs and public bodies across the country.
It was the guiding principles of value and innovation that saw Judge overhaul the way he uses external legal advisers, as reported by The Lawyer last week (6 September). Instead of having a formal panel, the agency has introduced a list of preferred firms.
When using outside counsel matters are handled on a case-by-case basis and several firms are invited to tender. This move reflected the organisation’s tightening budget and Judge’s desire to avoid a situation whereby a large number of firms on the panel were failing to win work.
The team works with national players such as Eversheds and Pinsent Masons, but in keeping with its remit of supporting local business it also instructs regional firms such as property specialists Robson Palmer Solicitors, Ward Hadaway and Watson Burton.
“We want to support the local economy and understand that firms such as Robson Palmer are as good as anyone else,” explains Judge. “We’ve done a lot to encourage local firms to get involved.”
It is no surprise that Judge has received numerous job offers from firms eager to capitalise on his contacts and expertise, but he has not yet been tempted.
“I don’t know where else you can get this level of variety and innovation, plus the ability to get involved with things from the start,” he says. “Being in-house suits me well, combining the commercial with the legal.”
In June the business secretary Vince Cable announced that One North East would be scrapped. The news led to an outcry from businesses and councils in the region and triggered demands for a replacement body. This is understandable considering that it has worked on projects with a combined value totalling more than £320m and helped created an estimated 20,000 jobs.
While some kind of replacement organisation looks likely, it is far from certain, and Judge does not rule out a move to the private sector.
“In the current circumstances you can never say never,” he concedes.
Expect chequebooks to be at the ready.
Name: Peter Judge
Organisation: One North East
Industry: Public sector
Position: Head of legal services and procurement
Reporting to: Deputy chief executive Malcolm Page
Legal capability: 16
Main external law firms: Dickinson Dees, Eversheds, Muckle, Pinsent Masons, Robson Palmer Solicitors, Ward Hadaway
Total legal spend: Approximately £1m
1990-94: LLB (English Law) and LPC, University of Northumbria
2002-03: LLM (International and European Law), University of Durham
1994-98: Trainee and assistant solicitor, Rich & Carr Solicitors (now Rich & Carr Freer Bouskell Solicitors)
1998-2002: Corporate associate, Ward Hadaway
2003-present: Head of legal services and procurement, One North East