The award-winning teams from The Lawyer Awards this year have demonstrated that innovation and leadership frequently starts in the in-house legal team. Find out more about our 2017 winners below.
In-house banking and financial services team
Winner: CME Group
The CME Group navigated through unchartered territory to bring a new way to trade gold through an asset-trading platform as well as a blockchain-based, distributed ledger technology in a partnership with The Royal Mint.
The initiative, launched in 2016, will see the introduction of a digitised gold offering called Royal Mint Gold (RMG), a digital record of ownership for gold stored at the highly secure on-site bullion vault storage facility at The Royal Mint.
Throughout the process, CME Group’s in-house legal team played a key role in working closely with CME and Royal Mint business executives to educate all involved on the issues involved at the interface of wholesale trading technology in capital markets, blockchain technology and the legal and regulatory environment. This involved the legal team undertaking a “deep dive” immersion on some of the innovative technology aspects involved, and then in turn providing guidance, education and regular updates to CME Group business colleagues and the Royal Mint.
CME Group associate general counsel international and managing director Adrienne Seaman and senior director Evelien van den Arend were the lead in-house lawyers on this large-scale project.
CME Group’s legal team conducted regulatory analysis, supported by local specialist counsel in various jurisdictions identified by the business partners.
Crucially, the project involved a number of ‘legal firsts’ and new challenges, because it will provide market participants with the first opportunity to digitally trade physical gold, using blockchain technology to record the ownership.
Legal spend by the UK entities in 2016 was approximately £2.5 million. Main advisers in 2016 were Norton Rose Fulbright (team led by Jonathan Herbst) and Reed Smith (team led by Praj Samant).
The first issuance of RMG, expected this year, will represent digital ownership of up to $1bn of gold.
Second place: Post Office
Third place: British Business Bank
In-house commerce and industry team of the year
Winner: Premier Foods
Premier Foods had a taxing year. An unsolicited public takeover approach by US food company McCormick pushing the UK food giant to explore other, more profitable partnerships.
Central to this decision was Premier Foods In house team, led by Legal Director Andrew McDonald and head of legal Leanne Hoare, which was pivotal in the negotiation and development of a strategic partnership with Japanese Foods Company Nissin.
The Japanese food company acquired a 19.9 per cent shareholding in Premier Foods and entered into a relationship agreement.
To enable the successful implementation of the relationship with Nissin in the context of a public takeover approach, an innovative approach was also required from a regulatory and compliance perspective.
Firstly, there was a need to successfully navigate Premier’s disclosure obligations in the context of the market abuse regime and the Takeover Code. Secondly, to navigate and ensure compliance with Rule 21 of the Takeover Code, there was a crucial innovative step involving the “conditionality mechanism” in the Co-operation Agreement that was signed with Nissin. In essence, the Co-operation Agreement was conditional on Premier no longer being in an “Offer Period” under the Takeover Code.
Thanks to the hard work from the Premier Foods in-house legal team, the company’s defence manual was up to date and the company was able to engage its advisory bench, which included Slaughter and May, HSBC, Credit Suisse and KPMG. The result was a successful partnership and the start of a new expansion strategy. Mission accomplished.
Second place: Anheuser Busch InBev
Third place: Tideway
In-house energy and resources team of the year
Winner: National Grid
National Grid’s legal team was the subject of a restructure last year, making wide-reaching changes that had a positive impact on the entire business. National Grid’s global legal team, which reports to group general counsel Alison Kay, reviewed operations from a systems lens and reshaped the function to deliver customer-centric legal advice and assurance. The environment created in legal has enabled the sale of the majority stake of NG’s Gas Distribution business, valued at £13.8bn through the internally named ‘Project Piccadilly’.
Led by Kay, UK general counsel Rachael Davidson, group head of legal Mo Ajaz, and deputy group general counsel Mark Noble, the legal team managed complex issues. These included governmental and regulatory sign-off, pre-sale separation, transfer of 5,000 employees (TUPE and Pension transfers), separation and novation of thousands of contracts, transfer of 18,000 properties.
The legal team managed multiple internal and external lawyers to deliver the largest infrastructure transaction in the UK and possibly in Europe over the past two years. This was only made possible because of strong leadership, ownership, performance management and measurement using the best of lean and legal operations methodology.
Highly Commended: Lightsource Renewable Energy Holdings
In-house lawyer of the year
Winner: Prashant Naik General Counsel Legal, Compliance & Governance, Channel 4
Channel 4 general counsel for legal, compliance and governance Prashant Naik is considered to be one of the most influential leaders within Channel 4, widely respected for his collaborative and creative thinking.
Naik, who was appointed as the company’s first general counsel in 2014, closely aligned the legal strategy to protect the channel and the over 300 independent producers it works with annually, with the creative strategy to push boundaries and make trouble.
He also re-envigorated the way that Channel 4 works with its creative teams. The team operates a novel ‘reverse indemnity’ model. Producers are fully indemnified on high-risk projects provided they adhere to the advice provided by the team. This principally offers comfort to production companies, particularly SME working on contentious projects. Importantly this avoids producers self-censoring their creative ideas for fear of litigation and it allows the team to adopt a consistent and targeted approach to risk management across Channel 4’s output. This successful model has ensured that when a programme gives rise to proceedings, there is a unified approach to the defence of the action thereby avoiding the duplication of legal costs.
Naik is a hands-on GC. Known as an expert in crisis management thanks to his handling of a number of cases involving the arrest, detention and kidnap of journalists, Naik has also been pivotal in internal challenges. He led the team in a successful internal initiative to target disabled lawyers and increase their representation in the legal and compliance department annual work placement scheme.
Channel 4 will also be running the law firm work placement scheme for a second year making this a permanent fixture. In a challenging environment, Naik’s bright legacy continues.
Second place: Carolyn Jameson, Chief Legal Officer, Skyscanner
Third place: Lucy Sladojevic, General Counsel, Argus Media
In-house public sector or regulatory team of the year
ClientEarth is Europe’s first and leading non-profit environmental law organisation, which uses the law to find real, workable solutions to environmental challenges.
In November 2016, the organisation won a landmark case against the UK Government at the High Court over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution. The case is the second ClientEarth has won on air pollution and was the result of a six-year legal battle to protect public health.
The 50-strong legal team’s efforts in court have extended into raising public awareness of the issue of pollution. It became a key part of the Mayor of London’s election campaign, and once elected he declared himself an interested party in ClientEarth’s case.
By using the law to protect the environment, ClientEarth’s clean air team led by director of programmes Karla Hill has demonstrated leadership and a strategy that can deliver systematic change. ClientEarth’s legal work in the UK has spurred its lawyers into launching clean air cases across Europe. Currently, they have cases ongoing in Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Poland.
Key members of the team include Anna Heslop, Simon Alcock and Andrea Lee.
ClientEarth’s approach is one of collaboration and engagement – litigation is always a last resort – but the clean air team has shown the rest of the organisation that taking court action can engender real and lasting systematic change.
Their success has inspired other environmental organisations around the world to bring forward similar cases. In Austria, five NGOs brought legal action against the Region of Salzburg for failure to comply with Nitrogen Dioxide levels.
Second place: City of Wolverhampton Council Legal Services
Third place: The Pensions Regulator
In-house retail team of the year
Winner: Marks and Spencer
M&S was faced with increasing and unsustainable final salary pension costs, the challenge of funding a compliant and competitive reward package following the introduction of the new Government National Living Wage, and the complexity of inconsistencies in pay arising out of a long history of changing employment practices.
Enter the M&S legal team, which identified the complex pensions and employment legal issues and shaped a strategy which would comply with relevant legal requirements, invest in employee relations, embody M&S’ core values (Inspiration, Innovation, Integrity, In-Touch) and achieve the overall commercial objectives.
In a large-scale project involving approximately 70,000 employees, the company opted to rely on internal capability, with reference to external legal advisers only to obtain specialist opinions on technical points of the law or wider industry practice.
By dedicating one in-house lawyer full-time on this project, the firm’s legal spend was drastically lower than it could have been, spending around £110,000 on an undertaking worth millions per annum.
The scale and complexity of the changes and the wide range of employees in different circumstances relied upon for agreement, made it the most challenging HR change programme implemented by M&S. It is highly unusual to attempt to make contract changes on this scale; creativity and effective communication were pivotal.
The effective changeover to the new pension scheme, which was initially considered “high risk, unprecedented and ‘a little crazy’” was pulled off despite the unprecedented scale without a hiccup thanks to the strong leadership of the legal team.
Second place: N Brown Group
Third place: ASOS.com
In-house TMT team of the year
During one of the biggest takeovers of last year, Skyscanner chief legal officer and company secretary Carolyn Jameson and her team became pivotal commercial leaders for their business, dealing with business and legal decisions simultaneously. Skyscanner’s $1.74bn acquisition by Chinese travel company Ctrip was implemented on a tight deadline and a low cost thanks to its internet economy skillset.
Jameson led a team of key employees from across the business, each of whom were balancing this daunting project with their ‘day jobs’. Setting an example for professionalism, commitment and discretion, she saw the team through many long nights of strategic planning and crucial negotiations.
After exceeding expectations on large investment rounds in previous months, and securing a joint venture with Japan’s largest search engine, the highly-skilled team could shape this deal from inception, with corporate development having been formally brought under their remit.
Skyscanner CEO Gareth Williams said: “There was a small yet highly efficient team looking at this, as one of our goals during the process was to minimise operational impact. Skyscanner’s chief legal officer Carolyn Jameson thus became the crucial person within Skyscanner.”
Second place: Sky UK
Third place: The Mill
Read the complete list of The Lawyer Awards 2017 winners here.