Kate Jarvis: O2

The fight against ‘slamming’ is just one challenge O2 chief legal counsel Kate Jarvis has to take on in the ever-evolving telecoms sector. By Malar Velaigam

Kate Jarvis’s claim to fame could be her moments spent dancing with actor David Hasselhoff at a convention for Swiss children’s television series Pingu in Switzerland, but she is more likely to be recognised as the driving force behind mobile service provider O2 UK’s 26-strong legal team.

Penguins and cars called ‘Kit’ aside, O2’s chief legal counsel Jarvis has her hands full with the evolving telecommunications industry, in which new legislation and cases sprout up faster than The Hoff’s chest hair. Issues currently occupying Jarvis include the European Parliament’s release of revised roaming tariffs, Ofcom’s plan to cut the costs of mobile calls and the 3G spectrum auction next year.

Jarvis is also faced with O2’s highly publicised legal action against distance seller Communications Direct for ‘slamming’, a practice where customers are switched to another network without their knowledge or consent.

“We’ve taken a vital role in stamping out this practice of slamming,” says Jarvis. “It’s critical for us.”

O2 is currently working on introducing a new code of practice to present to Ofcom in a bid to assist in the eradication of the slamming practice. This follows the company’s accusations against Communications Direct of ‘deceiving’ its customers, with the case to be heard this week (25 June). Wragge & Co is advising on the matter, with Ashley Roughton of Hogarth Chambers.

With O2’s network stretching to 17.5 million customers, it is not surprising that this is not the only case pending. Jarvis casually confirms that there are “many cases going on at the moment”. O2 is currently pursuing similar claims against other companies, although legal action has not yet been taken.

Jarvis is a keen believer in flexibility, plainly stating that O2 does not use a set legal panel, but does have strong ties with firms such as Baker & McKenzie, Herbert Smith and SJ Berwin. “The right relationship with the right firm is crucial – they’re an extension of us, and panels don’t always deliver that type of commitment,” she says.

O2 became a wholly owned subsidiary of Telefonica last March. As part of this process, its shares were delisted from the London Stock Exchange. Just before this, Jarvis began fine-tuning her legal department into six teams. The department consists of five senior counsel and one head of regulatory affairs, all of whom report directly to Jarvis.

Each of these lawyers heads a team representing a different aspect of O2’s operations, with teams representing sales, brand and marketing; operations and procurement; capability and innovation; employment; and the recently added litigation.

Jarvis says:”The structure has developed over the last few years and has aligned the team more closely with the business.”

As such, she is keen to guide her team to “embrace and understand” O2’s business strategy, alongside building sound external relationships.

Another key objective is the development and retention of her legal team, as Jarvis acknowledges the strong competition from private practices. “Most people in-house have made the conscious decision to leave private practice, but traditionally it’s thought that in-house roles pay less,” she says.

And she speaks from experience. Jarvis was with City firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer before moving in-house. “I had a fantastic time at Freshfields,” she says. “But I wanted to be closer to business clients and wanted to work directly with them.”

Jarvis says she knew she had made the right decision when her first business trip as an in-house lawyer took her to celeb-fest Cannes/ “I haven’t looked back since,” beams Jarvis, whose brush with Hasselhoff came when she was in-house consel with BMG.

For the next few months she will be occupied with branding, supply contract and patent issues surrounding O2’s broadband launch, which is slated for the end of the year. “This launch involves branding, marketing, a myriad of supply contracts and a new area from the technology point,” she explains excitedly.
Kate Jarvis
Chief legal counsel

Name: Kate Jarvis
Organisation: O2 UK
Title: Chief Legal Counsel
Reporting to: Chief financial officer Ronan Dunne
Sector: Telecommunications
Turnover: £4.03bn
Total number of employees: 12,000
Legal spend £10m (2006)
Legal capability: 26
Main law firms: Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Herbert Smith, McGrigors, Shoosmiths, SJ Berwin, Wragge & Co
Kate Jarvis’s CV:

1985-88 – BA(Hons) Jurisprudence, St Peter’s College, Oxford University
1988-89 – Guildford College of Law
Work History:
1990-93 – Trainee, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer;
1993-95 – business affairs manager, BMG;
1995-97 – director of business development, BMG;
1997-99 – managing director, Zarga TVC;
1999-2000 – corporate development team, BT;
2000-01 – chief consel, Genie Internet;
2001-04 – chief counsel products, O2;
2004-present – chief legal counsel, O2