Freshfields takes the tube for £30m

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer reaped almost £30m in fees advising on the three controversial London Underground public-private partnerships (PPPs), it has emerged.

According to a report published by the National Audit Office today (17 June) the magic circle firm earned £29.2m in fees over a period of five years. Meanwhile, London Underground’s financial adviser PriceWaterhouseCoopers pocketed £21.4m from the total of £109m paid to advisers.

Despite repeated requests, the Government initially refused to reveal how much money had been paid to advisers. However, as first revealed by The Lawyer last August, London Underground dropped Freshfields from its panel in favour of Herbert Smith after billing an estimated £30m (The Lawyer, 13 August).

Jefffrey Rubinoff, the project finance partner who led the Freshfields team advising London Underground, denied that London Underground’s decision to drop Freshfields from its legal panel was due to cost issues. “We met every month to review fees and they [London Underground] was satisfied with the value it was getting,” he said.

The revelation is a huge embarrassment to London Underground, which initially set aside £4m each for legal and financial advisory fees. However, a London Underground spokesperson said: “The fees relate to a different era of London Underground. The current management cannot be held responsible for the fees incurred.”

Responsibility for London Underground was transferred to Transport for London in July 2003.

Rubinoff argued that the firm was not involved in setting the original £4m figure but said it must have been based on the original 18 month timetable.

According to the report Freshields initially agreed an average hourly rate for all qualified lawyers, irrespective of seniority. But that was renegotiated at rates closer to standard billing rates in 2001 after the firm found that more partner time was required on the PPP. It is understood that Freshfields offered a discount of between 10 to 15 per cent.