Phantom menace

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) seems to be preparing for the real estate panel reviews at Tesco and Legal & General (L&G) in an odd way.

Phantom menace
Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) seems to be preparing for the real estate panel reviews at Tesco and Legal & General (L&G) in an odd way. It’s restructuring its real estate department in order to “serve the growing finance and corporate orientation of the property market”, as an insider puts it. This rather reinforces the impression that the pure real estate work on which it made its name is out in the cold.

Although BLP is expected to retain much of its existing workload for L&G, its relationship with Tesco is on shakier ground after the supermarket giant initiated a claim against the firm for £1m in damages in July over its handling of a real estate transaction.
In the meantime, there has been a series of departures, including that of Daniel Lipman, who will move to Mishcon de Reya later in the year. Rachel Phillips also left in August to follow a new career in the church, while construction specialist Steven Williams left in July to join Nabarro Nathanson.

But the thing that has most London real estate lawyers gossiping is BLP’s phantom search for a new figurehead for its real estate practice. The firm denies this, but there are an awful lot of lawyers who seem to have been approached for the job over the past year. Perhaps the £800,000 on offer is fictitious too?

Parting is such sweet sorrow
Norton Rose has quite a task ahead of it regarding its soon-to-break-away Cologne office.

The firm remains tight-lipped on the matter, but we do not envy Peter Martyr’s job in divvying up the existing work in progress and repaying any capital contributions to the partners, for a start.

As for CMS, the word is that it is considering running its new Cologne office on a joint basis with its existing Düsseldorf branch. But is that wise? Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has tried that too, and it’s never gelled. Just because you have two big offices in the Rhineland, it doesn’t mean they automatically integrate. Cologne lawyers loathe being lumped in with their colleagues down the Rhine – it’s a bit like telling a Scouser he is really a Mancunian. Advice to CMS: leave well alone for a while.

No closure on disclosure
Just when it seems that Customs & Excise should have a spring in its step, it appears to be grinding to a halt – and it’s that disclosure issue again. Disclosure has been a gaping wound in Customs’ side for two years, ever since the collapse of its London City Bond trial, which came about because its officers failed to disclose its use of a participating informant.

However, as The Lawyer revealed last week (27 September), Customs has set up a database of all VAT-registered traders that its officers have had contact with. That way Customs’ senior command will know, and be able to disclose, if they have been used as informants. In addition, it is also now using extra counsel to help fulfil its disclosure duties to the courts.

So far, so good. But Grapevine hears that in at least one upcoming prosecution, Customs will apply for a delay to the start of the trial – because of disclosure difficulties. Oops.

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