Gemma Sampson: London & European

As London & European’s first head of legal, Gemma Sampson’s panel review will eschew the magic circle in favour of medium-sized and regional firms. Vanessa Arora reports

London & European’s (L&E) in-house legal team is on a growth spurt and has recently hired its first-ever head of legal and compliance.

Gemma Sampson joined the property services company in September after spending five years as head of legal and compliance at Lehman Brothers subsidiary Southern Pacific Mortgage.

Sampson admits that, while her first few weeks at L&E, which is her third in-house position, were “a bit of a baptism of fire”, she has high aspirations. “I’m looking to grow and enhance the team and to support the business from the legal and compliance side,” she says.

Already, as so many fresh heads of legal do, she has launched a review of the company’s external advisers, turning her back on the big City firms in favour of smaller regional practices.

“The magic circle firms don’t have a clue,” says Sampson. She is very clear on the type of firm she is looking for. “Typically medium-sized, regional firms have larger property and conveyancing departments and we’re seen as a bigger client to them. From our point of view, they really understand what we want,” she says.

L&E, a property transaction adviser, has doubled in size over the past year and the company now boasts 20 employees. Sampson explains that the growth is attributable to the company attracting an ever-increasing number of clients. “The company’s invested more in PR and technology staff and has beefed up its sales force,” explains Sampson.

Sampson, a product of the growth spurt herself, was brought in to develop and grow the legal team. “The legal department didn’t have anyone senior for quite some time,” she says. “The company’s chief executive Chris Taylor wanted to take stock and make sure that every area of the company was represented around the management table. This included the legal department.” It gives Sampson a clear remit as well as management influence.

L&E provides products and services to assist with the property transaction process. It does this primarily by providing title insurance policies that insure the lender or borrower, or both, against any losses as a result of a title defect.

Sampson says it is an exciting time to have joined L&E because, while the company continues to develop its core areas, it is potentially looking at providing new types of coverage and further ways to enhance and speed up the conveyancing process.

Recent developments include the introduction of its web-based initiative, which provides solicitors with instant quotes and immediate cover for both search indemnities and title defects. It has recently updated its web-based property transaction management system, Complete Panel Management, which monitors the speed and performance of conveyancing, in accordance with a set timeframe.

The company currently has two panels, corporate and claims, to which it appoints external legal advisers. Both panels are currently under review and Sampson has a clear strategy. “Both panels existed pre-me,” Sampson explains. “I want to make sure they’re doing their jobs.”

On the corporate panel the company has appointed longstanding advisers Barnetts, Irwin Mitchell and TLT Solicitors. On the claims panel L&E outsources its work to Bristol-based TLT, as well as Cobbetts and John Collins & Partners. Samson says the L&E team will manage the claims in terms of service standards before outsourcing the work to the external panel firms, which will then revert to the in-house team with a range of options.

Sampson’s strategy includes boosting the number of lawyers within the legal department, although she is particular about who would make the grade. “I’d probably prefer to hire someone who’s previously worked in-house because working in private practice and in-house are such different experiences,” she says. “I’m looking for someone to be able to give specific, commercial advice. Private practice lawyers tend to send a report with various different options rather than telling you what to do.”

Of her in-house legal team, Sampson says she expects her lawyers to be good allrounders. “As it’s such a small company, on a day-to-day basis lawyers are expected to deal with whatever lands on their desk,” she explains. “This can include queries from lenders and solicitors regarding policy coverage, compliance issues or claims queries.”

All-round ability is something firms hoping to land a spot on the company’s panel are going to have to show as well.
Gemma Sampson
Head of Legal and Compliance
London & European

Organisation: London & European
Sector: Financial services
Turnover: £9.4m
Legal spend: £128,000
Employees: 20
Head of Legal and Compliance: Gemma Sampson
Reporting to: Chief executive officer Christopher Taylor
Legal capability: Four

Main law firms Variety of legal panels currently under review, but tends to use medium-sized/regional-based firms
Gemma Sampson’s CV

1994-97 – University of Westminster (LLB)
1997-98 – College of Law (LPC)
Work history:
1998-99 – Marsons Solicitors, team leader, property department
1999-2001 – Marsons Solicitors, trainee solicitor
2001 – First American Title Insurance Co, in-house solicitor and underwriter
2001-06 Southern Pacific Mortgage, head of legal and compliance
2006 – London & European, head of legal and compliance