Kass proves he’s a clever Fela

It is not often that in-house lawyers summon their external advisers to an evening of Afrobeat, but Associated Newspapers group legal director Harvey Kass did precisely that earlier this month.

An evening out at the National Theatre’s production of Fela!, preceded by a backstage tour, was a social highlight of an unusual two-day conference dreamt up by Kass and his California-based colleague Eric Drattell, general counsel at Risk Management Solutions, like Associated Newspapers part of the DMGT group.

The event brought together the worldwide DMGT legal group plus a number of business heads from across the world.

“Breaking down conventional communication barriers helps build relationships and adds immeasurable value to the service we provide,” says Kass.

Although Associated Newspapers uses a number of external advisers, including Farrer & Co, Foot Anstey, Herbert Smith, Taylor Wessing and Trethowans, the company’s three principal firms – Bird & Bird, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC) – were picked to provide the legal input for the conference and for the 51-strong DMGT contingent.

The first day was hosted by RPC and covered private company M&A, user-generated content and effective IP/IT due diligence. The day culminated in a visit to the Tower of London and a boat trip on the Thames.

“What better way to give a sense of London’s history to international colleagues?” asks Kass.

The second day saw a morning session at Freshfields, covering alternative equity investment structures, competition law aspects of information-sharing and the implications of the UK Bribery Act.

This was followed by an afternoon at Bird & Bird, covering cloud computing and corporate veil issues.

The topics, picked by Kass, Drattell and the three firms, required targeted presentations from outside counsel.

“They took quite a bit of care over the topics,” says RPC media group head Jaron Lewis. “So rather than us churning out material, it was all bespoke.”

Little wonder that the theatre trip was seen as light relief after two days of heavy legal content.

“Because there were social aspects as well as work, the evening activities meant we spent an awful lot of time with each other,” says Lewis. “It was the first time you got to see the whole team and be in the room with people from the US and Australian sides.”

“There’s definitely value to be gained from panel firms working together,” agrees Freshfields ­competition partner Rod Carlton. “As external lawyers we want ­internal lawyers to think of us as an extension of the legal department, and knowing them well socially is part of that.”

Freshfields competition partners have worked with RPC corporate partner Tim Anderson a good deal, but other than that the lawyers have operated in separate spheres.

“We all do different things,” says Lewis. “There’s not much overlap, so the collaborative approach doesn’t have the degree of competition you might otherwise get.

“[This conference] was a good example of law firms working together. It was quite clear we had a similar approach to the other legal advisers. What was different was the element of fun that was ­introduced to proceedings.”

The choice of Fela! as an evening outing was unusual, although perhaps not quite as startling as the sight of besuited lawyers gyrating self-consciously to Afrobeat.

Kass, who describes the lawyers’ dancing as “Widdescombesque” and claims to have documentary evidence of the moves, is ­unrepentant about subjecting his team to participatory theatre.
“I know my colleagues,” he says. “Wild, uninhibited and open to new experiences.”