Hot 100: Rhian Deakin, Foster & Partners

From a chance secondment on loan from Travers Smith in March 2010, Rhian Deakin (scroll down for video interview) never would have thought that she would become Foster & Partners’ first ever general counsel less than six months later.


More than two years on, Deakin remains the architect firm’s sole lawyer, supported only by its commercial contracts team, yet she balances IP, employment, corporate governance, tax and compliance issues related to the firm’s range of domestic and overseas projects and its 1,100-plus employees worldwide.

She also has to cope with the compliance aspects of dealing with regulatory issues, the company’s financial arrangements and its relationship with private equity shareholder 3i.

Deakin takes it all in her stride though, and relishes the variety of the role, whether it is advising on structuring a joint venture, issues related to the Thames Estuary Hub project, restructuring the firm’s corporate structure in China or establishing an office in Brazil.

As a former private equity associate at Travers Smith and before that Allen & Overy, working in a male-dominated environment has done little to faze her. She has come up with some innovative ways of working alongside so many architects and other creative types.

“I think an in-house lawyer is very much like being a translator,” she says. “You have to deal with lawyers all over the world and be good at taking that understanding and distilling it down to get to the point. I also find drawing pictures helps. Architects like pictures,” she laughs.