Client partners are a special breed

Catrin Griffiths

Our focus this week is on a relationship: we profile the general counsel of Universal Music Richard Constant with his favoured external lawyer, Stephen Kon of KWMSJB, a year after the titanic merger with EMI was given the nod. What emerges most strongly from the double interview (Cover story, page 10) is that the relationship has had to weather some difficult moments, not least deciding whether Universal could pull off the deal from a competition standpoint. Constant and Kon knew it was going to be painful, and transparency, candour and trust were key.

 The alchemy of the relationship between GC and external lawyer can be hard to capture, but in the past year we have run several articles exploring it, such as the joint profile of London Stock Exchange GC Catherine Johnson and Freshfields’ Andrew Hutchings. And, at The Lawyer Awards last year, we launched the Client Partner of the Year category, in which lawyers are nominated by clients. The winner in 2013 was Jane Mutimear of Bird & Bird for her work with Nokia, not just for the depth of knowledge she has of the telecoms company, but also for forging a commercial arrangement that benefits both parties. Louise Pentland, executive vice-president and chief legal officer, lauded Mutimear’s top-notch service and an innovative charging model that allows the company to predict the costs of litigation.

 Today, on, we unveil this year’s shortlist, sponsored once more by Saunderson House. It spans the City and the regions. We have Reed Smith securitisation partner Tamara Box, put forward by Wilmington Trust for her work on restructuring Lehman vehicles, and Ed Barnett, A&O relationship partner for GlaxoSmithKline, commended by the company for his corporate and advisory skills. Perbadanan Nasional Berhad has nominated Olswang partner Azlinda Ariffin-Boromand for her work advising on its UK investments, while 1Spatial puts forward Brown Rudnick partner Lena Hodge for her perspective on risk. Watson Petroleum commends Thrings partner John Davies for his advice over 13 years. Also in the regions, Marston’s praises Shoosmiths partner Vaqas Farooq for his strategic contributions to managing its property portfolio.

 All those shortlisted are involved at a business-critical, board level and understand their clients. The law firm brand may help, but for many general counsel, as Universal’s Constant says, “It’s the people rather than the firm.”