Herbies beats Freshfields to BAA investigation role

Herbert Smith has beaten Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in a beauty parade to advise BAA on an investigation into the UK airport operator by the Competition Commission.

This is BAA’s first major instruction since its £12bn takeover by Spanish group and Freshfields client Ferrovial in June 2006. As first reported by The Lawyer (4 September 2006), BAA legal director Robert Herga warned that post-merger there would be a shake-up of the company’s external legal advisers.

Although Herbert Smith was historically BAA’s preferred counsel, representing it on the takeover, Freshfields was also vying for instruction.

Herga told The Lawyer that both firms were final contenders in a beauty parade for the job. “There was very little between the two firms at the end. It was a tight call,” he said.

Historically Lovells has handled BAA’s litigation and property work and Allen & Overy has advised on finance-related matters.

The Competition Commission mandate is a boon for Herbert Smith, which is also representing airline Virgin Atlantic on a criminal probe by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) into price-fixing.

Herbert Smith deputy head of competition Elizabeth McKnight is leading on the Competition Commission mandate with competition partner Stephen Wisking and associate Andre Pretorius. Corporate partner Gareth Roberts manages the firm’s BAA relationship.

“We’re very enthusiastic about the instruction; there are interesting issues,” said McKnight.

The OFT originally investigated BAA as part of a 2006 market study into airports, but in mid-December last year referred the matter to the Competition Commission for a more detailed inquiry.

BAA operates seven airports in the UK, including Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Its airports have an annual turnover of £2bn.