Northern & Shell Group

Monday afternoon is a hectic time for Maninder Gill, head of legal at Northern & Shell, as he has to find a quiet corner of the office to browse through a copy of OK! Magazine.

It is not everyone’s idea of hard work but Gill is checking the magazine before it goes to press.

OK! Magazine is just one title in Northern & Shell’s stable, which also includes gay lifestyle magazine Attitude, the Arsenal and Liverpool football clubs’ official magazines and an array of top-shelf magazines including Forum.

It is just one company in the group, trading under the name Portland Enterprises, which owns adult channel The Fantasy Channel and includes a property company that handles its investments.

A recent article in The Sunday Times valued Northern & Shell at £500m and reported that a flotation was imminent.

Gill says that since the article was published, Northern & Shell has been approached by several people wanting to invest, and chairman Richard Desmond, who currently owns the business, is considering several options including a full flotation.

Gill says: “It has been an exciting time recently, but we are keeping our options open as to what we will do.”

Most publications call in the lawyers only when the editor suspects there might be a potential legal problem, but Gill oversees everything that goes into the magazine.

“Most of our work in terms of publishing tends to be with pre-publication checking on OK!, Attitude, and the football magazines.

“We negotiate and draft contracts with celebrities, who we get to meet sometimes, which is nice.

“But we mostly only meet them when there is a problem. Most of the time we deal with their agents and lawyers – the job isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.”

As for the adult titles, Gill says that they do not provide much work for the legal department.

“We have very, very few problems with those titles. They don’t need the input of the legal department as they have editors who know what is permitted.

“Our company does not believe in pushing the barriers. From time to time the legal department will draft assignments for ownership of photos but that’s about it.”

The company’s main external law firms are Davenport Lyons – which handled the dispute over circulation figures between OK! Magazine and rival Hello! last autumn – Rosenblatt, Alexander Johnson, Olswang, Nabarro Nathanson and Simon Muirhead & Burton.

The dispute with Hello! was finally settled a few days before the trial was due to begin, with Peter Carter-Ruck acting for Hello!

When it comes to selecting a law firm, most are chosen from Desmond’s personal contacts.

Gill says: “Richard has a lot of contacts within the business as he has been in it for 30 years.”

Davenport Lyons was brought on board because Gill got to know the firm well in his previous job at Peter Carter-Ruck.

But around 80 per cent of the work is carried out in-house.

“We found that quite often when we sent work out, we tended to have to do a lot of it anyway, collating information and sending it out to the external law firms.

“So we tend to collate the information ourselves and get specialist advice from counsel. This way we retain control of the case. The company is very fast-moving and our chairman needs results and updates immediately – it’s no good me saying to him that I don’t know what is going on because the case is with a firm.”

Gill adds that it is far more cost-effective for him to get advice direct from the bar and uses 1 Brick Court and 5 Raymond Buildings for defamation work, 8 New Square and 11 South Square for IP work, 10 Old Square and 11 Stone Buildings for commercial cases and Blackstone Chambers for employment work.

For international work, Gill oversees national lawyers in each country. “We strongly believe in horses for courses,” says Gill. “Hence we do not send all our work to big international firms.”

Again, law firms are chosen by personal recommendation from contacts and include Irell & Manella in the US, Deacons Graham & James in Hong Kong, Shearn Delamore & Co in Malaysia, Mallesons Stephen Jaques in Australia, Birgit Schulz in Germany, Nauta Dutilh in The Netherlands and Brazil, and Gilbey de Haas in France.

Gilbey de Haas recently handled an infringement of copyright case relating to a French magazine’s unauthorised use of photographs from Spice Girl Mel B and Jimmy Gulzar’s wedding.

For IP work in the UK and abroad, Gill favours an old boy network approach.

“They tend to be [lawyers] I have come across in my previous firms and former classmates. I did a masters course in international IP work and instruct a lot of people that I did the course with. I wouldn’t instruct anyone I didn’t know and trust.”

Much of the work connected with the football titles involves copyright issues, especially when Northern & Shell release special publications.

“Two years ago we had published a World Cup guide and within 24 hours of it hitting the streets in Malaysia, someone had run it through a colour photocopier.

“The distributors let us know what is going on immediately. This sort of thing hurts them as much as it hurts us because they make a profit on each one they sell. They keep their noses to the ground and pick up on infringements very, very quickly.”
Maninder Dill
Head of legal
Northern & Shell Group

Statistics
Organisation Northern & Shell Group
Sector Media
Employees 200
Head of legal Maninder Dill
Reporting to Chairman Richard Desmond and the board
Main location for lawyers Docklands, London
Main law firms Davenport Lyons, Rosenblatt, Simons Muirhead & Burton, Alexander Johnson, Olswang, Nabarro Nathanson