British Telecommunication's (BT) group general counsel Alan Whitfield is leaving to join KPMG law firm KLegal.
Whitfield has been head of the legal department at BT since 1995, having joined the group 20 years ago. He will join KLegal in June as a partner in its telecoms group.
The move is a blow to BT, which only last month lost Whitfield's sidekick Anne Fletcher to the BBC (The Lawyer, 29 January). She will become legal adviser in March.
Whitfield's appointment is the biggest coup for KLegal since its London launch just over 18 months ago. The appointment of such a high-profile in-house lawyer to an accountancy-tied law firm will be seen as a big endorsement of the multidisciplinary approach.
Whitfield says: “I'm attracted to KLegal by its vision of a genuinely multidisciplinary approach to clients and their business issues. There are very few law firms which can actually put themselves in the position of a client and say: 'What's actually going to meet this client's needs?'
“From the client's perspective, I've often seen law firms decide what they're good at and then try to sell it to the client. That works for a while, but any intelligent client will work out that it's not what they want.”
At BT Whitfield works with magic circle firms Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters & Alliance. He also instructs Ashurst Morris Crisp, Bird & Bird and Lawrence Graham, but has not worked with KLegal. BT, though, is a KPMG client, so KLegal is understood to have done work for BT in the past. KPMG's other technology clients include Motorola, Virgin and the BBC.
Whitfield manages a team of around 230 people worldwide at BT, which has one of the biggest in-house legal departments in the country. He divides his time between management, company executive work and high-level legal work.
His arrival will dramatically enhance KLegal's ability to market its technology, telecoms and e-business capabilities to KPMG clients. Whitfield will be the eleventh lawyer and third partner in the London group, and will work closely with the telecoms group in KPMG's international law firms, particularly in The Netherlands, France, New Zealand and Australia.
Chris Hoyle, KLegal's head of telecoms, says: “People who move at senior levels tend to get very concerned about the clients that people are bringing along. If you think about it, the more somebody brings, the less opportunity they're going to have to unlock relationships.”
A spokesperson for BT says: “We are very sorry to see Alan go. Throughout his time with the company he has been a tremendous asset and has made a significant contribution to building a legal team which any organisation would be proud of.” She adds that a successor will be announced soon.