If you are a London bus commuter, there is a one in five chance that this morning you were brought into work by Arriva.

And when the new Copenhagen metro opens, the same company will bring thousands into the city, as it does in Liverpool through its recent acquisition of MTL, which owned the train franchise for Merseyrail Electrics.

MTL also owns the rail franchises in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Tyne & Wear. It was also a co-signatory on the Northern Spirit franchise with the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority and was bought by Arriva in February.

Pinsent Curtis acted on the MTL deal. Pinsents gained Arriva as a client when its own long-standing client the British Bus Group, which was at the time the UK’s third largest bus operation, was bought by the company in 1996.

The group has interests in just about every form of land-based motorised transport except, ironically, the one on which the company was built in the 1930s – motor bikes.

Following the Second World War the company was relaunched by Tom Cowie (junior) with £1,000 of demob money and flourished until the mid-1950s when Japanese imports began to take over the market. This is when Cowie moved into car rental.

Arriva, the new name that took over from Cowie in the mid-1990s, leased 80,000 cars to blue chip clients such as Marks & Spencer and British Airways until last year, when the car lease business was sold to General Motors Acceptance Corporation.

However, it still owns a vehicle rental service which hires out both cars and light commercial vehicles.

Dickinson Dees, which has been advising the company since 1981, acted on the disposal of the car lease business.

Head of legal Chris Applegarth says that he likes to be as even handed as possible with the distribution of legal work between the company’s two chosen law firms, Pinsent Curtis and Dickinson Dees.

“Both firms are extremely competent,” he says. “All our large class one deals go outside the legal department, while some of the smaller stuff, class two and transactional work we would keep inside.

“For class one work we don’t have the resources and extra cover needed. Also for some deals the financial institutions demand that we use an outside law firm.”

For historical reasons Applegarth works with the Birmingham office of Pinsent Curtis rather than the closer Leeds office. Dickinson Dees was selected in part because of its north-east base.

Applegarth works very closely with all outside legal advisers and on occasions will bring outside lawyers into the office to work alongside the department.

“I am very selective about who I use,” he says. “Having selected people that I will use, I keep the division of work equal.”

For property development work, Applegarth says that he tends to shop around. While he has used Dickinson Dees in the past for property work, he has also used another 10 to 12 smaller firms including 25-partner London firm Jeffrey Green Russell and Haig-Scott & Co, a small, but Applegarth says, very talented firm based in Edinburgh.

When Arriva sought a US private placement, Applegarth used US firm White & Case, which Arriva has also used for some European ventures.

In The Netherlands, he uses Linklaters & Alliance, but only because Dutch law firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, which the company has outsourced work to for many years, became part of the alliance network.

However, using both firms goes against the grain for Applegarth, who does not rate the current trend of Anglo-Saxon firms opening in every country on the map.

“We have a policy of using indigenous firms for our international dealings,” explains Applegarth. “Generally I find that they know more about their legal systems than UK firms which tend to have people who know a bit but not enough because they have not been based in the country long enough to know.

“We have used White & Case in eastern Europe but only because they have a policy of employing indigenous lawyers within those offices and they also do a lot of work in those countries.”

As to what Applegarth expects from his law firms, paying a reasonable price for the services is a priority, alongside a fast accurate response. He sometimes negotiates fixed fees to help achieve this.

Despite this, he says: “Given the sort of things the law firms get involved in for us, I don’t want to screw them to the ground over fees. They are good with us so we like to be good with them.”

Applegarth has plenty of experience to help him run the department as he has spent most of his career in-house.

Before joining Arriva in 1985, he had worked for house builder Wimpey among other in-house positions. In his time at Arriva he has seen the company grow from making a £10m profit per year to a £200m profit from a turnover of £1.5bn last year.

The Arriva department is made up of generalists, with no clear divisions as to which lawyer handles which particular sectors.

All outside lawyers work under the close control of the in-house department and Applegarth.

It would seem, if you would excuse the pun, that Applegarth is still very much in the driving seat.
Chris Applegarth
Head of legal

Organisation Arriva
Sector Transport
FTSE 250 rating 203
Market capitalisation £461m
Employees 20,000 in the UK, 10,000 in Europe
Legal function five in the UK and two in Denmark
Head of legal Chris Applegarth
Reporting to The board
Main law firms Dickinson Dees, Pinsent Curtis