Virgin drops Camerons

Sixty firms blasted down to eleven in Virgin shake-up; Samaha and Bowker “wanted a diverse panel”

The Virgin Group has dropped CMS Cameron McKenna from its panel following a radical overhaul of the way it works with external firms.

For the first time, the group has set up a mandatory legal panel of 11 firms that must be used by all the member companies. Until now, each company was allowed to choose its own lawyers, with a central panel in place for group work.

The group has a turnover of over £3.5bn and is believed to have a legal spend of more than £15m. The 11 firms that will do all of the group’s work from now on include four members of the existing central panel – Allen & Overy (A&O), Bond Pearce, Harbottle & Lewis and Macfarlanes. Just two firms have been dropped from the original panel – Camerons and WI Davies. The latter is a niche property firm, which will continue to do Richard Branson’s personal property work in a private capacity.

The seven new members are Ashurst Morris Crisp, Denton Wilde Sapte, DLA, Eversheds, Finers Stephens Innocent, Hammond Suddards Edge and Herbert Smith.

The firms were chosen from a list of more than 60 drawn up from recommendations from the group. Virgin’s group legal counsel Helena Samaha and group commercial director Richard Bowker led a team of 10, who looked at 23 firms and made a final decision from 16.

Samaha says: “What we wanted to achieve was quite a diverse panel to reflect the diversity of the group. There are some companies in the group that are not going to call up A&O because they don’t have enough money, so they’ll call Bond Pearce or someone like that.”

On the decision to drop Camerons, she says: “It was a difficult decision as they were very, very good. It was one of the decisions we made towards the end.

“Camerons has traditionally been doing our property work only out of the Bristol office, so we felt that there was going to be more than that going forward.”

Simon Hegarty, the managing partner of Camerons’ Bristol office, says that the firm was not a major player on the previous panel, although he says: “It’s disappointing not to have had a chance to be on the main panel.”

Finers scooped its place on the panel through its recent merger with Nathan Silman, a retail property firm that has historically done work for Our Price, now part of Virgin.

Herbert Smith has previously done work for the rail group, and Dentons has worked for the group before, giving property, railway and media and technology advice.