British Land takes first steps towards legal panel

FTSE 100 property giant warms to more formal way of instructing firms

British Land
British Land: legal operation is run by the finance director

Being a FTSE 100 company without a general counsel says much about British Land (BL), one of the UK’s largest property companies. Rival Land Securities is only about 30 per cent bigger by market capitalisation but has a full-blown in-house legal team with a general counsel, a head of legal services and 10 panel firms across three sub-rosters.

BL’s legal operation is managed by finance director Lucinda Bell. The company has no in-house lawyers and its long-serving group secretary Anthony Braine is an accountant. Relationships with law firms are individual and generally managed by key area heads such as offices chief Tim Roberts and head of retail Charles Maudsley.

So it was a major cultural shift when over a year ago the company instructed Bell to introduce a degree of formality and rationalisation to the group’s law firm relationships (The Lawyer, 16 January 2012). No panel ensued per se, but it is understood SJ Berwin and US firm Mayer Brown were chosen as the chief advisers on office work and asked to agree to terms of appointment.

Partners Jon Vivian and Lewis Myers at Irwin Mitchell also earn a slice of office work thanks to their relationship with BL, developed before they left SJ Berwin in 2010.

Ashurst, which won two major office mandates in 2010 and 2011 at 10 Portman Square and Marble Arch House respectively, seems left out, but it is unclear whether it or BL took this decision. Indeed, early this year relationship partner Martin Wright left to join Mayer Brown. Partner Ann Minogue still acts for BL on construction work.

Nor does Linklaters appear, despite advising BL on the pre-letting of the Leadenhall Building in 2011. “We understand their decision but look forward to being able to work with BL in the future should circumstances permit,” a firm spokesperson says.

BL’s retail instructions go mainly to SJ Berwin and partly to Jones Day’s David Roberts, whose client Pillar Investments was taken over by BL in 2005. It is understood the group has also been putting its residential advisers, such as Davenport Lyons and Charles Russell, in the spotlight.

BL does have a more casual way of arranging external advisers than many FTSE peers, but we are witnessing gradual change.