Polly Weitzman

Dearbail Jordan meets Denton Hall partner Polly Weitzman, who sent the Office of Fair Trading off after a Restrictive Practices Court drubbing over Premier League football TV deals

Polly Weitzman, competition law partner at Denton Hall, would hate people to compare her to SG Asset Management’s financial superwoman Nicola Horlick.

But it is difficult not to see the similarities between the two. Weitzman was nine-months pregnant with her third child when the Restrictive Practices Court found that Denton Hall’s client, the FA Premier League (FAPL), was legally above board in its exclusive television agreement with BSkyB and the BBC, despite claims to the contrary from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

In a profession often thought of as male-dominated, Weitzman considers herself lucky as Denton Hall affords her the flexibility to be a successful lawyer and a mother.

“Provided the firm trusts you and gives you the flexibility then it is up to you to juggle it. And I do juggle it and I have to say that so far no one has suffered,” she says.

Weitzman certainly had the tenacity to lead a seven-strong team on behalf on the FAPL when the OFT referred the case to the court in 1996, at the same time as the birth of her second child.

But her confidence in working as a lawyer is something she has inherited from her parents.

“My father is a barrister specialising in personal injury work, and my mother is a magistrate,” she says.

Weitzman opted for the relatively new area of competition law when she did her articles at Denton Hall in 1986. “When I qualified, I started working with a partner called David Aitman (head of the competition and EC group) who was, at that time, just creating the group at Denton Hall,” she says.

Weitzman became entranced with her field and became a partner in 1995.

“I thought it was really fascinating in that every problem is different. The multitude of problems that come your way are very varied.

“It is enjoyable because you are not just advising on the law, but you are advising on how companies can actually do things essential to their business like their pricing policy and their supply policy.”

But it is her work on the high-profile FAPL case that has propelled Weitzman into the limelight.

One competition lawyer says: “I think that she has not had a reputation before the case, but this has moved her out from under Aitman’s shadow.”

Weitzman concedes that the FAPL case, which ended in a 47-day trial at the start of the year, is the most challenging she has had.

Ironically, when the OFT decided to refer the case involving FAPL’s five-year exclusive television contract with BSkyB and the BBC, four years after the agreement had been signed, Weitzman and her team did everything in their power to try and prevent the matter from being referred to court.

She says: “My feelings were that this should be avoided and that we had to do everything we could to avoid it because it was going to involve the Premier League in a huge amount of time and costs which could have been better spent.”

More than 40 witnesses were called by Denton Hall on behalf of the FAPL to prove it was not operating an unlawful cartel in its exclusive TV deal but was generating money to put back into the game.

The witnesses included some of the major names in football and many spokespeople from the 20 clubs represented by the FAPL.

Weitzman says: “We were pleased because so many people were prepared to stand up and be counted because they thought there was an important point of principal.”

Apart from putting her through her legal paces, the case gave Weitzman an appreciation of football.

“When I started I knew nothing about football. Now I do enjoy it. We had a lot of football fans working on the case at Denton Hall and I have to say I have a lot of respect for these people because they believed in it and worked very hard.”

For the moment, however, Weitzman is determined to enjoy her six-month maternity leave but not without a constant reminder of her brush with the beautiful game.

“My baby daughter Francesca has got the most fantastic array of replica football kit from Newcastle which Freddie Fletcher (chief executive) sent her as a birth present,” she laughs.

But Weitzman is irked by the idea of being a of “supermum”.

She says that it is not a case whether you can have it all but whether you can be a mother and a successful lawyer and do both well. “Shall I tell you how I see it?” she asks, “It is a balance between work and family.

“It would be wrong to say that you can have it all and it annoys me when you see people saying that.”

“It is hard work but I wouldn’t give either of them up. As long as I don’t think that anyone is suffering then I’ll carry on doing it.”
Polly Weitzman
Denton Hall