Lorna Curry: GE Commercial Finance

GE Commercial Finance’s (GE) new general counsel for its European corporate finance business Lorna Curry recognises that her legal team plays an important function in the overall workings of the company.

“We’re very lucky not to be seen as an overhead for the company, but as a group of people who can add experience and knowledge to help a growing business,” she says. “But we’re also conscious that we can’t take that for granted and need to continue to show the value that legal and compliance teams can bring to the business.”

GE’s European corporate finance business, Corporate Financial Services Europe (CFS Europe), is one of six units that make up GE. It has more than 2,000 employees, with around 65 legal and compliance personnel.

Founded in 2004, CFS Europe has presences in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands and provides financial solutions to a variety of companies, boasting around 5,000 customers. Its products and services include asset-based financing, leveraged finance and corporate restructuring.

“It’s a very exciting place to be a lawyer,” says Curry, who is based in London. “If you join any organisation as it grows, there’s a lot of scope to learn and develop with the business.”

Curry became general counsel at CFS Europe in January, having previously been general counsel for GE’s European leveraged finance business. Prior to joining GE in 2004 she was legal counsel for Barclays Capital’s leveraged finance capability, which she describes as a “great in-house role”. Her legal experience also includes working at Wilde Sapte (now Denton Wilde Sapte).

As general counsel for CFS Europe Curry oversees all European legal matters for the business, which at the end of 2006 had an asset volume of $23bn (£11.64bn). She reports to Bob Stefanowski, CFS Europe president and chief executive.

Curry followed Kevin Dunn, who was promoted to European head of leveraged finance, into the role.

“I inherited a great team from Kevin Dunn,” said Curry of the 20 legal and compliance staff in the UK. “However, I’m very conscious of the need to maintain and develop the team.”

Curry says her priority is to “focus on maintaining and engaging effective individuals” and is keen to point out that she believes the role of a GE lawyer is different to those in other in-house departments.

“From my experience the role of a lawyer at GE is different,” she says. “Lawyers are brought in to the business at all levels, not just to advise and manage risk, but they’re also seen as partners and leaders in a growing business. They’re personally required to take ownership of navigating changes. It sounds absurd, but it’s very real.”

“We always challenge our lawyers to be aware of anticipating risk. Being responsible for legal and compliance, I encourage that we all meet together and talk so that we can pool all our knowledge, experience and ideas together.

“In an increasingly complex, global world, you can’t say that what’s happening in one jurisdiction wont happen in another. It challenges us in everyday business.”

She goes on to say that the legal team has a “track record” of hiring lawyers with at least six years’ PQE and that, “while it’s always a benefit if the lawyers have already cut their teeth on a prior in-house role, we’ve equally hired successful candidates from private practice”.

Curry points out that the legal team has grown over the past three years and that going forward she is looking to “make a few choice hires to consolidate an already strong team”.

The key law firms that CFS Europe uses for its finance work are magic circle firms Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, as well as Ashurst and Weil Gotshal & Manges. Regional firms, such as Wragge & Co, have also traditionally been used. Last year CFS Europe’s legal spend was in excess of $10m (£5.06m).

“We know what we should pay for jobs and are both reasonable and tough,” says Curry. “We provide a good conduit between the law firm and the business, supporting legal fees where properly incurred, but we can also be quite tough if we feel it’s wrong.”

Curry says CSF Europe does not currently operate an e-billing system and that its implementation is “not in my agenda”, but that the team “tracks expenditure very closely”.

Lorna Curry
Head of Legal
CFS Europe

Organisation: GE Commercial Finance, Corporate Financial Services Europe
Sector: Financial services
Assets: Net earning assets of $21.4bn (£10.83bn) in 2006
Number of employees: 2,000-plus

General counsel: Lorna Curry
Reporting to: President and CEO Robert Stefanowski
Legal capability: 65 across Europe, including the compliance team
Main law firms: Pre-agreed legal panel organised by country and/or business platform, including Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Weil Gotshal & Manges
Lorna Curry ‘s CV

1987-90 – Reading University;
1990-91 – College of Law, York;
1991-93 – articled clerk, Wilde Sapte;
1993-2000 – solicitor, Wilde Sapte (banking department);
2000-04 – legal counsel, leveraged finance, Barclays Capital;
2004-06 – general counsel, European Leveraged Finance, GE Commercial Finance;
2006 – European general counsel, GE Commercial Finance, Corporate Financial Services Europe