The role of Macfarlanes as legal adviser to Saatchi & Saatchi has been brought into question following Saatchi’s merger with French advertising agency Publicis.
Publicis, whose clients include Coca Cola and Renault, has its own in-house legal team, but generally uses four-partner niche commercial firm Hughes Watton on day-to-day UK issues. Herbert Smith has been instructed on larger UK projects, such as the merger.
As a result of the merger, all staff at Saatchi & Saatchi’s London head office are being made redundant, including company secretary Fiona Evans, who has until now been responsible for dealing with legal queries. She believes that it would be impractical for Publicis to take on a firm with which they have no prior relationship.
“That is really up to Publicis. I would have thought that to be practical, they would continue to use the firms that they deal with in Paris, which is where they are listed,” says Evans.
Macfarlanes has worked for Saatchi & Saatchi since the company’s beginnings in 1967. During that time it has supported the company through many difficult periods and many court appearances.
A source at Saatchi & Saatchi says: “Macfarlanes has been our firm of lawyers since the company started. [Publicis] have their own legal department in Paris, but it’s obviously for Publicis to say whether they have any use for a UK-based law firm.”
Sources at Macfarlanes confirm that it is too early to say whether existing relationships will be affected.
Robert Sutton, a partner at the firm who deals with Saatchi & Saatchi, is not hedging his bets: “It’s early days and we hope to maintain a relationship with Saatchi going forward, and indeed with Publicis.”
Saatchi & Saatchi has a chequered past, but Macfarlanes, considered to be among the top 10 firms for advertising clients, has been there through thick and thin. This is perhaps due in part to the close relationship held between Charles and Maurice Saatchi, the former chairmen of the company, and the partners at the firm.
Only on rare occasions has another firm been used. For example in 1995, when the Saatchi brothers, who had been forced out of the company by investors, were asked to repay a £2.9m pension to the company, Macfarlanes was unable to offer advice to either party since senior partner Vanni Treves was chairman of the pension trustees. In this instance, Travers Smith Braithwaite took its place to avoid conflict issues.
Publicis was unavailable for comment.