“We are not just a pink newspaper,” says Financial Times Group general counsel Dan Guildford.
The truth of the statement is plain to see: the FT has a huge global voice and its rose-tinted reach encompasses 18 other brands and titles. Publications such as Investors Chronicle sit alongside the flagship title, as does a huge events offering, while the group is also pushing hard on the digital side of its business.
Dan Guildford CV
Reports to CFO James Lund
2013-present General counsel, The Financial Times
2010-13 Senior legal counsel, The Financial Times
2009-10 Legal counsel, Vue Entertainment
2005-09 Senior associate, Dewey & LeBoeuf
2001-05 Associate, Pinsent Masons
1999-2001 Trainee, Pinsent Masons
It all makes for exciting times for the company’s legal team, not least because since Guildford stepped up to the general counsel role in 2013 the FT has been bought by Japanese company Nikkei, kick-starting a new era in its history. The £844m takeover in 2015 has resulted in the launch of numerous partnerships and joint ventures in Asia and has meant expansion for the legal team. The ventures include Nikkei FT Learning, aimed at transforming English language learning for professionals, and scoutAsia, which provides data on companies in Asia. Guildford has hired the group’s first lawyer in Beijing and its first in Hong Kong to service demand.
Guildford himself decided he wanted to be an IP lawyer early in his career. He trained and qualified with Pinsent Masons where, he says, “quite fortunately I was asked to become the team’s go-to person on data protection, which turned out to be pretty important”.
Guildford spent time on secondment at AOL Europe and then joined the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf. It was not until relatively late in his private practice career that he wanted to go in-house on a full-time basis.
“At 8PQE the perception is that you’re too senior and set in your ways,” Guildford says, so he joined the alternative resource business Lawyers On Demand – then still in its infancy – to gain more in-house experience. There, he was placed with the FT, leading to his eventual full-time hire in 2010 as the media group’s senior legal counsel under then-general counsel Tim Bratton.
Together, Guildford and Bratton would launch a legal team in Belfast after noticing they were doing an increasing amount of template-based work and needed more lawyers.
“It demonstrates that a small in-house team can do nearshoring successfully,” Guildford says. “It doesn’t have to be hundreds of paralegals. We deliberately started small and brought in one lawyer initially; we now have four people there.
“The important lesson is that they feel part of a worldwide team: they join our team meeting each week and we fly out there regularly.”
We’ve demonstrated that a small in-house team can do nearshoring successfully. We brought in one lawyer initially; we now have four”
When Guildford eventually stepped up to the general counsel role “the team was in a good place”, he recalls.
“We were owned by Pearson so I had a dotted line to [Pearson general counsel] Bjarne Tellmann. Bjarne really encouraged me to take on responsibility for other areas of the Pearson business so I got to look after teams all over the world. I was lucky to be given that kind of responsibility early on; I wasn’t familiar with that so managing a worldwide team was a great learning experience.”
About the FT Group
Size of legal team 19 worldwide: 12 lawyers, six company secretarial, one PA
Annual legal spend £750,000
Main external firms DLA Piper, Jenner & Block, Morgan Lewis, Pinsent Masons, RPC
Shortly after the FT was bought by Nikkei, Guildford ran its first legal panel process. He now uses Pinsent Masons as the group’s primary provider of commercial advice.
“It’s worked out well,” he adds. “There’s a cost saving and it’s helped us build a better relationship with a firm that has put the effort in to get to know our business.”
Dealing with the Presidents Club story
It was RPC that worked with Nigel Hanson, the in-house lawyer responsible for editorial, in January 2018 when the FT broke the story about the treatment of waitresses at the Presidents Club charity event. It became the most-read article ever on FT.com and divided opinion among the paper’s readership. For the legal team there were numerous issues to grapple with: defamation, privacy and data protection, the question of the non-disclosure agreements the waitresses had signed on the night, charity law implications and the ethical issues of using undercover reporters.
“There was a lot of work involved, and not the obvious pre-publication injunction stuff,” Guildford recalls. “It just shows how integral our lawyers are to the editorial process, and they were able to advise right from the start.”
Since the FT has recently brought in a new team of investigative journalists, this type of work is only likely to increase. While the FT may be more than just a newspaper, it seems like good, old-fashioned journalism will keep its lawyers busy for a while yet.
The FT’s new frontiers
Joint projects with Nikkei
The FT legal team has found itself working on wide range of projects aimed at unleashing the opportunities for growth that the acquisition of FT by Nikkei has provided.
The joint venture Nikkei FT Learning is aimed at transforming the world of English language learning for professionals, building courses based on the specific language requirements of its customers.
Meanwhile, scoutAsia provides a subscription-based service providing news and data on listed and unlisted companies in Asia. The legal team advised on setting up the joint ventures and all the underlying agreements, such as for the development of the scoutAsia technology platform.
Other projects with Nikkei involve large agreements for the provision of technology consultancy and development, helping Nikkei to benefit from FT’s transition to digital media. This includes projects for the digital transformation of Nikkei’s English-language publication, Nikkei Asian Review and for the development of a new website for the Nikkei newspaper itself.
Protection of journalistic principles
The last year saw the conclusion of a long-running matter involving a subsidiary of FT, which faced intense and prolonged pressure from various US authorities to disclose the details of a journalistic source. The legal team worked with the management team to avoid having to make such a disclosure.
The case Victor Lilley v Financial Times involved a former freelancer pursuing FT for copyright infringement in relation to articles written in the 1990s, with damages claimed exceeding £300m. The team secured an order striking out the claim in the High Court on the basis that the claims were statute-barred and amounted to an abuse of process. The Court subsequently declared the claimant to be a vexatious litigant.
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