Jonathan McCoy: Vodafone UK

If you are an in-house lawyer working at Vodafone UK, then you can count yourself lucky. The Newbury-based telecommunications company employs 18 lawyers who are dedicated to working in a variety of areas, including commercial, employment, property and litigation.

Head of legal Jonathan McCoy, who arrived to head legal affairs in 2004 from Yahoo! Europe, leads the team, which has remained stable, with McCoy opting to consolidate rather than recruit additional lawyers. Reporting to CEO Nick Read, McCoy also has the important role of working on the company’s board.

“Being part of the executive board is a really positive thing,” says McCoy. “For me, as a legal director, it is not enough to manage the legal team, as I don’t think you can really understand a company until you know what’s happening across the board.”

But McCoy’s career path to becoming a lawyer is also a little out of the ordinary, having initially joined the Royal Navy on a short service commission as a pilot before he made the decision to practise law. His first legal experience was gained at media and human rights solicitors Carter-Ruck.

Following that he worked at the BBC, where he was involved in a variety of litigation work, with a particular emphasis on libel and copyright.

Recruiting the right type of lawyer for an in-house role has become increasingly difficult, especially for companies based outside the City. But McCoy has managed to find a way to combat the problem.

For starters, half of the department is based outside London at the company’s headquarters in Newbury, including McCoy, but through a flexible working arrangement between Vodafone UK and its employees, the lawyers are able to work from facilities in the City.

Most lawyers in the group work either from home or in the Strand offices that the UK arm shares with Vodafone’s global headquarters. Legal staff are expected to commute to Newbury just once or twice a week.

McCoy said: “We have office space in London, so our lawyers have the opportunity of working from there or home, so in the future we have the benefit of having a wider choice of people from which to hire.”

Recently the Vodafone UK team has been working on a number of major projects. The headline initiative centres on a joint proposal between Vodafone UK and Orange UK.

The project outlines plans to merge the two companies’ UK radio access networks (RANs) in a deal designed to cut costs and bring new 3G services to a wider number of customers.

McCoy said the legal team was working closely with Orange on the structure and finalising the terms of agreement.

“Fundamentally it’s a project that requires a lot of negotiation between both parties so we’ve been working very closely with the Orange legal team,” says McCoy. “It’s the first deal of this depth in the work. If you asked me a few years ago about sharing a network, I’d never have thought about it.”

Then there are the larger infrastructure projects. Vodafone were one of four mobile network operators in the UK to start technical trials of TDtv. The trial aimed to provide an insight into the potential of using their existing spectrum and infrastructure to deliver mobile television and other multimedia services.

Globally, Vodafone counts Linklaters as its go-to firm for general legal advice. In the UK it mainly instructs mid-tier firms, including Baker & McKenzie, Osborne Clarke and Pinsent Masons for commercial work, Herbert Smith for litigation and Wragge & Co for property.

“I think the mid-tier firms have a lot to offer and I think in a way you have to consider the cost – it’s horses for courses,” McCoy says. “There’s always pressure to increase the numbers in-house, and if we were called upon to do more work then we would, but we’re pretty happy with the numbers we have.”

The UK company’s legal spend per year is around £5m-10m, although McCoy does not wish to divulge the exact total.

And being a member of the legal department at Vodafone UK is not just about the work. Last year McCoy organised for his team to spend a day working in the local community. The team also raised money for charity by participating in a charity fun run event.

McCoy said the events were not only aimed at putting something back into the community, but they also “worked to build the morale in the team”.

Jonathan McCoy
Head of legal
Vodafone UK

Organisation: Vodafone UK
Sector: Telecommunications
Turnover: £5bn
Number of employees: 11,600

Head of legal: Jonathan McCoy
Reporting to: CEO Nick Read
Legal capability: 22
Main law firms: Baker & McKenzie (commercial), Herbert Smith (litigation), Osborne Clarke, Pinsent Masons, Wragge & Co (property)
Jonathan McCoy’s CV

Work History:
1986-87 – Royal Navy;
1989-97 – Carter-Ruck;
1998-99 – BBC; 1999 – European legal director, Yahoo Europe ; 2004 – head of legal, Vodafone UK