With a little help from my firms

Veronica Gallagher, in-house lawyer at Balfour Beatty Construction (BBC), is swamped in private finance initiatives (PFIs). “We’re starting to outsource more of the PFI legal work,” she says, “just because of the volume of it. I’m just sitting at my desk now and I can see four PFI bids that are on the table. Any one of them can be pretty much full time, so it’s just not manageable and not a good use of my time to be entirely devoted to that.”

Gallagher, the sole in-house lawyer at BBC, which has recently closed
the Blackburn Hospital, Calderdale Schools and Lochgilphead PFI projects, has a wider remit within the company than just PFI.

“We have a traditional construction arm as well,” she explains, “so I have to be available to give advice on that. If I was just doing PFI it would just take me out of the picture too much.”

Gallagher has been with the business for just over two years. “I came from HBG Construction,” she says, “and prior to that I was with another Balfour Beatty subsidiary. In total, I’ve been with them for about six years.”

Gallagher trained at Edinburgh City Council and has never been in private practice. “I did my traineeship as an in-house lawyer and that’s what I was used to,” she explains. “I quite enjoy acting for one client because it’s a good working relationship. But it has to be quite a big client with a good variety of practices within it. So I’ve never really had any great desire to go into private practice.”

Although she is constantly involved with a variety of projects, they are all construction-related. But the range of documentation varies from job to job, and as Gallagher points out, “usually you’re working with different teams on each project”.

Gallagher stresses that her role allows her to take a hands-on approach to the PFI projects. “I take it from initial bidding stage to financial close, providing the legal advice on our construction contracts,” she says. “But obviously, the volume we have means that sometimes we have to send them out externally.

“Apart from that I advise on anything that might create group issues, such as things that may have a wider impact on the Balfour Beatty group. You can’t lose sight that you’re part of a larger organisation. And while we may take a position on a particular job and with a particular client, that client may have other interests with other Balfour Beatty companies – that type of thing. We have to ensure that we’re not cutting across anyone else’s position or interests that they may have.”

Contentious work is outsourced, along with overspill PFI matters. Tods Murray tends to handle disputes in Scotland and Berwin Leighton Paisner is used in England. “Although, considering the volume of work we do, we’re very fortunate that the level of litigation is very low,” says Gallagher. “We’re good at dealing with claims, and we have commercial teams who take them on board and attempt to resolve them without having to resort to that.”

But the external lawyers are useful as much as a sounding board as extra legal hands. “I think it’s important that we get advice from other sources in the market to keep us up to date, to get a sense of what their other clients are doing perhaps, and how the market’s shifting,” explains Gallagher. “They’re pretty good at saying, ‘Well, the market’s shifted, you might want to think about this or that’.”

Beachcroft Wansbroughs and Masons split the PFI work, which is the driver in terms of volume for BBC, between them. “We haven’t dropped anyone recently,” says Gallagher. “Which is good, because the volume of the PFI business means that securing the right teams to work on them and managing that process is quite a challenge.”

Statistics
Organisation Balfour Beatty Construction
Sector Construction
Turnover £300m
Employees 700
Head of legal Veronica Gallagher
Legal capability One
Legal spend £250,000
Reporting to Commercial director Jim Nicholson
Main law firms Beachcroft Wansbroughs, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Masons, Robert Muckle and Tods Murray