Glasgow 2014 head of legal: Games theory

Shonagh MacVicar, head of legal at Glasgow 2014, is adamant the Commonwealth Games will emulate the glories of London 2012

As the nation basked in the success of London 2012, for Shonagh MacVicar it was a personal watershed moment. Having joined Commonwealth Games organiser Glasgow 2014 as head of legal in November 2008 MacVicar gained renewed confidence from the success of the Olympic Games and this is now rubbing off on her team.

“The biggest lesson we learned from the Olympics is positive, and that’s how well-received it was,” she says. “People were so excited and that’s transferring to us in Glasgow.”

Shonagh MacVicar, Glasgow 2014

Title: Head of legal/executive adviser to CEO

Reports to: Director of finance & corporate services Ian Reid and CEO David Grevemberg

Employees: 304. (Will rise to around 1,154 by July 2014)

Legal capability: 10

Main external law firm: Harper Macleod


With this renewed confidence came the realisation that the event she’d been working towards for four years was inching closer.

“Suddenly it all became very real; all of a sudden we had less than two years to go,” she says. “In 2013 a lot of our businesses will become operationally ready so it’s an important year for legal.”

While much of the work is handled in-house by the two areas that MacVicar is responsible for – legal and brand protection – the 10-strong team works hand-in-hand with Scottish firm Harper Macleod, official legal adviser to the games.

Having heard pitches from a range of UK and Scotland-only firms, MacVicar says she decided to go with Harper Macleod because of the mix of quality advice and affordability the firm could bring, adding that the firm has “really embraced the opportunity”.

With Harper Macleod advising on employment, litigation and corporate matters, all within the context of sport, the deal offers a unique opportunity to its lawyers in the form of secondments.

“We had one girl [from Harper Macleod] who came to us as a trainee and she qualified here,” says MacVicar. “We’ve also had two instances whereby Harper Macleod has recruited people specifically to take them to us. It’s an amazing opportunity for them.”

Having joined Glasgow 2014 as employee number five shortly after Glasgow won the bid in 2007, MacVicar’s role has changed dramatically since the days when the event was still in the distant future.

“As employee number five I was part of the team that set up the business,” MacVicar recalls. “As a legal team we support everything in the run-up to the games. We started as a critical element [setting up the business] then moved into a support role then will become critical again after the games end because we have to decommission and dissolve everything. I’ve never been in an organisation that evolves so much.”

At the moment the legal team is working on everything from broadcasting rights to sponsorship, catering to uniforms, with the search for 15,000 volunteers also underway. MacVicar is clear about her personal highlight so far, though.

“My involvement in judging the mascot competition was the highlight,” she says.

What she found particularly rewarding about the competition was the fact that it was won by 12-year-old Beth Gilmour, a swimming-mad Cumbernauld schoolgirl who has grown up on the games’ doorstep.

“It’s amazing for a lawyer to be involved in creative and for me that was unlike any other opportunity,” adds MacVicar.

Shonagh MacVicar

Get set

Certainly, when she began her career in Maclay Murray & Spens’ corporate department in 2001 the idea of being involved in a major sporting event could not have been further from MacVicar’s mind. But a move in-house to the Student Loans Company in 2003 and then to McLaren Software three years later meant she was ready for a fresh challenge when the Commonwealth Games job came up.

“I saw a quirky advert in The Herald,” MacVicar recalls. “I thought it was probably the only time in my career when I could be part of something this big. I’m interested in sport but I was also thinking of the wow factor of being involved in something like this.”

Although the ultimate deadline of 24 July 2014 is looming, MacVicar’s role will not end when the lights go down on the closing ceremony.

“My role is to run until March 2015,” she says. “In terms of the legal world and financial world, whether we actually shut down the company in that time is a key question, but we have obligations to the Commonwealth Games Federation, which gave us the rights to stage the games until December 2014.

“We hand the rights back then, at which point they are given to the Gold Coast. We’ll then tie up any contracts. Hopefully there won’t be any litigation, but we’ll be tying all those kinds of things up.”


With three-quarters of the games’ workforce due to finish work the day the event closes on 4 August 2014, it looks like employee number five could well be the last woman standing.

Pieter De Waal

Pieter de Waal

Head of legal, Olympic Delivery Authority

The legal team of an organisation responsible for delivering a one-off sporting event faces unique challenges. One is the commitment to a deadline. It requires a pragmatic and commercial approach to ensure that the lawyers don’t hold up the programme, while achieving value for money.

This can be challenging in a commercial environment and requires trust and co-operation with contractors and suppliers to ensure there is collective commitment to delivery.

Another consequence of an immovable programme is that the in-house legal function must be positioned central to corporate and operational structures and processes, and be mandated to provide not only legal advice but also participate in decision-making.

A ‘sunset’ organisation delivering a one-off event goes through different stages at a rapid pace. It must adapt swiftly as it moves from one milestone to the next. Key to the success of the team is its ability to adapt to this environment and stay in tune with programme objectives.

Another important priority is to identify and collaborate with external public and private stakeholders, and to understand their legal interests, which can range from funding to statutory undertakings to real estate.

Big sports event projects have a habit of throwing up a wide (and often unusual or unexpected) range of legal work. It is important to identify key legal areas of work and recruit the right specialists, but lawyers must also be willing and able to apply expertise in a wide range of legal disciplines.

While a considerable amount of work can be performed in-house, big sports projects inevitably require some external assistance. When it comes to assembling a legal panel or appointing a single legal service supplier, it is worth doing some market analysis to identify firms with expertise and depth in the right areas, and to run a competitive procurement process.

For financial controls it is also important to set ground rules for issuing instructions or inviting mini-competitions for legal work and to agree precise work scopes and budget estimates.

The work of the legal team continues after the event has taken place and the lawyers are central to the winding up of the project, ensuring all contingent liabilities have been identified and covered off, and that a clean exit is achieved.