Court of appeal

Think about the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and it is possible that a very genteel and English image comes to mind of sunny days, tennis whites and strawberries. Not really the sort of organisation to need an in-house department. Well, that image is as out of date as footballers getting the bus to the match. The LTA now has an annual turnover of £45m and attracts sponsorship from the likes of HSBC, Nestlé and Samsung.

Bruce Mellstrom is the organisation’s first head of legal, having joined three years ago from the British Olympic Association (BOA). He first went in-house from Herbert Smith, where he says he was doing corporate work but not finding it that interesting. So after deciding to go in-house he ended up almost by accident at the BOA. He found, though, that he liked working within the sporting sector, so his present role is the natural progression from his position at the BOA.

Although Mellstrom plays tennis and golf, he says he is not really a sportsman in the sense of many of the LTA members, but adds that his outside activities do enhance the interest he holds for his day job.

“It’s wrong to have people working in a governing body purely because they’re tennis nuts. It’s good to have knowledge about what is a fairly unusual world and I think it’s important to know a bit about the sport, but a lot of my job is just about being a lawyer,” explains Mellstrom.

Most of Mellstrom’s job involves acting as a legal manager rather than doing hands-on lawyering. Possibly because there was no in-house presence before he joined, many of the departments are fairly self-reliant when it comes to the day-to-day legal requirements and so will instruct lawyers themselves.

“There’s a lot of work that could be done by me but gets done by people in other departments,” explains Mellstrom. “When we do outsource work it’s because there isn’t time to do it or we don’t have the right expertise. I oversee things relating to sponsorship and marketing, such as events and club loans.”

For example, although he has dealt with some employment matters over the last three years, the human resources department tends to deal with the majority of them.

As for external advisers, most of the work goes to Farrer & Co, Fox Williams and a little-known firm called Warren Murton & Co in Bedford Row. The latter has longstanding historical links with the LTA and acts on the tennis clubs’ loans schemes. That is when the LTA lends money to tennis clubs across the country to help towards the cost of renovating or building new facilities. While the documentation is relatively straightforward, Mellstrom does get involved in issues of security for the loans.

“Farrer & Co do other bits of work for us on constitution and rules-related issues and technology work that’s sports-specific,” says Mellstrom. Fox Williams, meanwhile, does employment work for the organisation and again is a connection that pre-existed Mellstrom’s arrival.

But Mellstrom does not have a closed mind when it comes to firms to use in the future. “I have a particular approach to using firms in that I try to select horses for courses. I’ve done – I hesitate to call them beauty parades – reviews of three sets of solicitors for one job. Last year for one important property-based job I wanted to look at two or three people and ended up appointing Eversheds.”

As it happened, the deal fell apart, but not because of Eversheds, which Mellstrom says he would use again. He also used Bird & Bird for the first time last year. “I used their sports section on a fairly big event sponsorship agreement, partly as a trying-out exercise and partly because the deal involved a fairly big sponsor,” he recalls.

He explains that most sponsorship deals are drawn up on an individual basis because different partners have different expectations of what they will get for their money.

However, the general principles are roughly the same and the sponsorship department has got used to drawing up many of them on its own. “I sometimes get involved, but not always, and I try and get involved more often,” says Mellstrom. “I work quite closely with the commercial manager here, so I’m more and more involved in sponsorship deals.”

Cost is inevitably a matter for consideration for the LTA, which does not have the resources for City-level fees, but Mellstrom stresses that he selects lawyers on expertise as opposed to cost per se.

“I select on a mixture of things,” he says. “It’s quite important getting to know the person that you’re going to work with and making sure that you’re getting the right level of attention. The head of the property department led the Eversheds team and did most of the work on it. The level of fees is important, but what’s more important is an understanding of what the level of fees should be for a particular job.

“I don’t like lawyers who don’t stop and think whether they’re spending too much time doing a particular job,” says Mellstrom, adding that unfortunately this issue is likely to become an increasing problem as the pressure mounts on lawyers to bill as many hours as possible. “I think law firms are a bit too quick to keep the meter running without thinking whether it’s what the client needs.”

That is an area, Mellstrom believes, that is able to be more closely monitored by a lawyer than a non-lawyer, as he knows roughly the amount of work that a job requires.
The LTA also runs a ranking system for players, although it is not the one inhabited by the likes of Tim Henman. The professional rankings system is run by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the LTA ranks amateur tennis players who are taking part in its tournaments.

However, while the rankings might be of great concern to the players themselves, Mellstrom says that it does not really affect him much. “There’s been a couple of incidents of people tying to run ratings programmes liaising with us, but not running it very well,” he says.

Regarding how Mellstrom gets along with the rest of the organisation, he says he is quite happy for the moment to allow certain departments to continue to handle their own legal requirements. He could, he says, build a case for employing a large legal department to handle everything with the slightest hint of a legal angle, but admits that there is really no need for that at present.
Bruce Mellstrom
Head of legal
The Lawn Tennis Association

Organisation The Lawn Tennis Assocation
Sector Sport
Employees 220
Legal capability One
Head of legal Bruce Mellstrom
Reporting to Director of finance and administration Robert Carter Shaw
Main location for lawyers Kensington, London
Main law firms Farrer & Co, Fox Williams and Watson Murton & Co