Jacqueline Hill: Tate

When the tate created an in-house lawyer function it became a trailblazer among arts organisations. Joanne Harris talks to the sole lawyer Jacqueline Hill about her broad remit.

In 2005 nearly 6.5 million people walked through the doors of Tate’s four galleries – Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. The Tate Modern on London’s South Bank is the UK’s fourth most popular visitor attraction, while the Tate Britain on Millbank saw visitor numbers soar by 58 per cent last year.

It is a busy time for the organisation, which is a non-dependent public body as well as an exempt charity, and consequently a busy time for Tate’s head of legal Jacqueline Hill. Hill is a self-confessed “jack of all trades and master of none” and is involved in every legal aspect of Tate’s day-to-day activities.

Tate was the first museum to launch a dedicated legal team and is still in a tiny minority in the UK. Hill was recruited in 2001 to support the company secretary, taking over as sole legal adviser shortly afterwards.

Until a few weeks ago, Hill was supported by a trainee on secondment from Linklaters, who was rotated every six months. She says the trainees got a great deal out of the experience – the short length of many exhibitions meant they often ran a contract from beginning to end.

The recent upsurge in activity in the City has prompted Linklaters to pull the programme, leaving Hill alone for the time being. Tate is actively recruiting for a full-time legal assistant, but there is enough work to keep two qualified lawyers and a trainee busy.

Hill’s remit covers the legal aspects of a new acquisition, corporate governance issues, sponsorship contracts, copyright, any property work, litigation that might occur and anything else that comes up requiring legal advice.

Linklaters is Tate’s principal adviser for corporate issues, primarily property and planning. The firm advised on the real estate aspects of the Tate Modern, which opened in 2000.

For charity work, Hill turns to Bates Wells & Braithwaite. She says the firm’s solid reputation in the area makes it the obvious choice.

Tate’s legal budget is tiny, just £50,000, although property issues are funded separately. This means Hill has to do most of the work herself. That the Tate has a legal capacity at all is something of a minor revolution, though, and Hill thinks that the museum world has had to change its attitudes to legal work quite considerably in recent years.

“The museum world has worked on a gentleman’s handshake until recently,” she says. “We’ve put a lot of precedents together and I think we’re following in the general legal climate of the US. The difficulty for the museum world is the artistic aspect of it; I think that sometimes heavy documentation can hinder that ability to let projects evolve. One of my jobs is to support but not interfere.”

Hill has useful inside knowledge of the art world, having completed a masters in Classical Heritage before a spell working at Christie’s. It means she can be a little more sensitive to the needs of the Tate and also of the artists whose works adorn its galleries’ walls and floors.

Some of Hill’s work extends into the realms of the unusual. Since the Freedom of Information Act came into force in January 2005, she has been responsible for responding to any requests made to the Tate, which, as a body that is partially publicly funded, comes under the act’s terms.

“A lot of it is journalists on a fishing expedition,” Hill says.

Recently, requests made under the act have revealed how the Tate went about recovering two valuable Turner paintings. Hill was involved in the recovery operation, which involved trips to the High Court for permission to make payments in order to recover the stolen paintings.

The legal department was also drawn into the media furore last autumn over the acquisition of a Chris Ofili work entitled The Upper Room. Tate was rumoured to have paid a significant amount for the work, but was subsequently widely criticised because Ofili was a trustee of the museum. Minutes of a November meeting of the Tate board reveal that the Charity Commission met with Ben Newman (acting legal head while Hill was on maternity leave) to discuss Tate’s “history of purchasing acquisitions from its serving trustees in exceptional circumstances”.

Hill is used to dealing with issues that are in the media spotlight. In addition to the regular, high-value sponsorship deals struck with companies such as BT, she smooths the route for the annual Turner Prize. The legal department naturally has no involvement with the selection of the artwork, but the controversial nature of some of the pieces means Hill must liaise with the exhibition curator in case there are any content issues to be flagged up.

Although Hill admits that she does not get to wander around the galleries as much as she would like, she enjoys being in an artistic environment. Her input on legal issues is bound to continue to develop as the museum world continues to wake up to what a lawyer can offer it.

Jacqueline Hill
Head of Legal

Organisation Tate
Sector Art
Turnover £88m
Legal Spend £50,000
Employees 738
Legal capability One
Head of legal Jacqueline Hill
Reporting to Director of finance and resource Sian Williams
Main law firms Bates Wells & Braithwaite, Linklaters