Freshfields moves aside as BNFL creates panel

Freshfields Bruckhaus Der-inger has lost its position as sole legal adviser to British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) following the company's decision to appoint its first ever panel.

Freshfields has been BNFL's main law firm since 1971, but Hammond Suddards Edge, Eversheds and DLA are now advising the company on a number of areas housed under corporate and commercial and dispute resolution. Bristol-based firm Veale Wasbrough has been retained to advise BNFL's subsidiary Magnox.

Alvin Shuttleworth, company secretary and group legal director at BNFL, says: “We had a one-stop shop setup with Freshfields. Anything we didn't do internally we'd outsource to them as a single source for other expertise like tax, or when it was a resource issue.”

However, he adds: “The amount of work we've got has expanded between what we can deal with and what resources we've got.”

BNFL has 34 lawyers in its legal department, which is split equally between the US and Warrington in Cheshire.

Shuttleworth adds: “Basically, we've always used Freshfields, and unless we had a conflict, we used them exclusively.”

Since the legal department's work has grown, Shuttleworth considered either recruiting internally or outsourcing, before settling on the idea of putting together a panel.

Paul Bowden, a litigation partner at Freshfields who has worked with BNFL since 1982, says that the firm was very much involved in the process of recruiting a panel for the company. Bowden heads a 120-strong global team that does work for BNFL.

“We were virtually the sole provider,” he says. “The model was originally that BNFL always had a very large, very talented legal department which had always done a lot of the work themselves.”

Freshfields will continue to advise the company on the major big-ticket work, including the privatisation of BNFL, which the government announced in 1999 and which will be achieved under a public-to-private partnership scheme. The firm will also act on extremely large litigation cases for the company.

BNFL began the process of interviewing firms in autumn last year. Shuttleworth says that he was able to come up with a list of preferred law firms because he is deputy chairman of the Law Society's commerce and industry group and was able to use his contacts there to decide which firms to look at in the North West.

Shuttleworth will take over the chair of the commerce and industry group from Edward Smethurst, who formerly worked in-house at BNFL and is now head of legal at Clitheroe-based conservatory roof system manufacturer Ultraframe.