Virgin rues loss of legal chief prior to group’s panel review

Virgin Group has been left without a legal chief as the annual review of the group’s legal panel approaches.

The review follows the shock resignation of highly rated group legal director Helena Samaha, who is leaving to pursue other interests.
Since Samaha joined Virgin seven years ago from Clifford Chance, the group and its legal function have evolved significantly.

Six months after joining she slashed the group’s in-house legal function and launched its first ever legal panel. Samaha, whose day-to-day responsibilities included managing Virgin’s relationship with external lawyers, also launched the group’s first ever mandatory panel in 2001.

Since then the group’s companies are now obliged to instruct firms from the panel, which is reviewed on an annual basis.

The current panel is understood to comprise Allen & Overy (A&O), Ashurst, Denton Wilde Sapte, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, Eversheds, Harbottle & Lewis, Herbert Smith and Macfarlanes.
Virgin has a relatively small in-house legal function of around 14 lawyers for the whole group and an annual legal spend of around £10m.

Commenting on Samaha’s departure, a partner at one of Virgin’s panel firms said: “She handed in her notice because she wanted a change of focus.”

A spokesperson for Virgin confirmed Samaha’s resignation and said the group will be looking externally for a replacement.
It is unlikely that senior A&O associate Louise Wolfson, who was seconded to Virgin to cover for Samaha last year when she was on maternity leave, will take over, as she is now on maternity leave herself.

The Lawyer was unable to contact Samaha for comment.