Cable & Wireless deputy GC: Cable wise

Since becoming deputy general counsel at Cable & Wireless, Helen Copestick has put her private practice experience to good use when it comes to getting the best legal deals, says Katy Dowell

Helen Copestick

Name: Helen Copestick
Company: Cable & Wireless Worldwide
Position: Deputy general counsel
Industry: Telecommunications
Reporting to: General counsel Philip Davis
Turnover: £2.3bn
Employees: 7,000
Annual group legal spend: £1.2m
Global legal capability: 20
Main law firms: Baker & McKenzie, Herbert Smith, Olswang, Osborne Clarke, Pinsent Masons

When she joined Cable & Wireless Worldwide (CWW) in 2007 Helen Copestick, now deputy general counsel, had little insight into the pressures the fast-changing ­telecoms business would place upon her. She has since revelled in the ­challenge of creating a legal department that sits at the heart of the ­business and has done much to reduce the company’s annual legal spend.

CWW was formed in 2010 when Cable & Wireless demerged into two entities, the other being Cable & Wireless Communications.

Copestick joined Cable & Wireless as a business partner in the legal department following a stint on ­secondment from Norton Rose. Last year she was appointed deputy to general counsel Philip Davis. She has a hands-on approach to developing the legal department and was instrumental in shaping the company’s first external panel last year.

Knowing how firms structure their pricing has been a strategic advantage for Copestick, whose challenge it has been to bring down spend. She says she prefers to keep the ­big-ticket commercial deal-making in-house and has introduced greater ­competition between external ­advisers.

In 2008 Copestick was part of the team advising the company on its £300m deal with Aviva. The six-year contract saw the company agreeing to provide 72 services to the ­insurance giant, including telephony and networks.

“We act as a commercial legal team here in the UK,” Copestick explains, adding that it is a central task of hers to ensure the right work is sent to external firms at the right price.

Copestick says that she has worked on deals for CWW where the company’s client has shown up with a small army of lawyers, each on an hourly rate. She says she “always” looks in-house for the right legal resources before instructing external lawyers.

On the Aviva deal CWW’s lawyers were able to advise both ­domestically and internationally. The company has a lawyer based in Bangalore, while Aviva has a string of call centres across India. That lawyer is responsible for, among other things, keeping the client happy with its CWW ­service in the emerging market.

While the lion’s share of the ­company’s legal strength is in the UK, where it has 16 lawyers, CWW also has two lawyers based in ­Singapore and one in Paris.

“One of my roles is to make sure we resource deals correctly,” Copestick explains. “We can be facing ­customers when we’re deal-making. It’s my job to assess the opportunities for us and ensure we have a voice.”

It is unusual for in-house lawyers to be encouraged to work in tandem with their corporate counterparts, but that is what CWW expects of its lawyers.

“We’re embedded into the ­business,” Copestick explains. “We align ourselves with the business and can offer reusable expertise. We can offer advice based on a particular ­sector because we’ve been involved in these kinds of deals before.

“The great thing about being embedded is that we can plan for things coming down the line. We know what managers want as much as they do, and can spot trends.”

That said, the small in-house team cannot fully service the multibillion-pound company, which demands a range of lawyers, including niche advisers who can offer guidance on property and employment issues.

Last year CWW’s first post-demerger panel review saw Osborne Clarke and Pinsent Masons join Herbert Smith on its small roster of go-to corporate lawyers. Pinsents, which already had an informal ­relationship with CWW, will also be providing employment advice, while boutique BrookStreet des Roches has secured the company’s property work. On the regulatory side CWW regularly instructs Olswang and Baker &McKenzie.

“We like a small range of firms because it allows us to get a close and personal service,” Copestick says.

“It also means they have a better understanding of how we work.”

It may be small, but Copestick is still on the hunt for bargains and the odd secondee to support the ­company’s regional departments.

“We’ll always go to the panel on external work and ask them to quote. We take each one on merit but if we can we push down on price,” she says. “We get the economies of that ­competition and, of course, it helps.”

Having the ability to offer secondees who can get a better insight into how the company works will always be a bonus. In an industry such as telecoms change is so rapid that it becomes the norm. Evolving technology, sweeping regulatory changes and intense competition all add up to legal problems to be solved. The challenge for Copestick is to ensure her approach is practical and she knows when to utilise her external legal teams.