Scottish & Southern Energy drops Herbies for Freshfields in first roster review

Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) has cut Herbert Smith Freehills from its defence roster in favour of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer as part of its first ever panel review.

The ‘Big Six’ energy company is set to appoint its inaugural panel in the next few weeks having chopped Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) as its defence adviser following conflict issues. The firm could continue to advise the company in other areas but was the first casualty in what will be a slimmed-down formal roster.

New head of legal Elizabeth Tanner kicked off the formal review after taking up the role in October and tender documents were sent out a month later.

The lawyer said the in-house team was “down to the final interviews” and said its slimline roster would be unveiled imminently. Among those expected to win places are long-time advisers Dundas & Wilson, which pitched jointly with long-standing SSE adviser and merger partner CMS Cameron McKenna (12 December 2013) earlier in the month.

Tanner said the company currently used around 20 law firms and wanted to streamline its advisers.

She said: “We probably will continue to use a fair number because of the nature of our business and diversity of operations but we used far too many. At the moment we use over 20 and we definitely want to cut that down.”

The panel is expected to have sub-divisions and will be non-exclusive due to the unpredictable nature of the work and the conflict issues in the energy sector, which have already hit HSF’s role. 

Real estate is thought to be a likely sub-division. Tanner said it was “something that gets carved out because we have many any transactions entered into and we need to get the right advisers for the right projects.” She also said the roster “may well have a Scottish team”.

As well as a list of lawyers, SSE also instructs the bar directly and is reviewing a list of favourite advocates.

Tanner said instructing directly was “very effective. It cuts costs but I think often we are very clear on what it is that we like to do and we just want to go to advocates direct”.

The company currently instructs Blackstone Chambers’ Michael Fordham QC as well as a number of advocates from Temple Gardens, but is looking at other sets for its revamped list.

SSE will continue to drive as much work through its in-house team as possible and Tanner said panel needs were driven by the volume of work rather than need for specialist advice. 

Its Reading-based in-house legal team of 70 is working on a “collegiate” basis to draw up the review with Tanner overseeing the process. The team has taken responsibility for different areas and is currently in the process of reporting back to finalise the panel in preparation for the unveiling next month.

The company operates in England, Ireland and Scotland and has turned to Irish firm A&L Goodbody in the past as well as Dundas & Wilson and Pinsent Masons (14 January 2008).  

HSF is the second casualty of a panel review this month. Irwin Mitchell was kicked off National Grid’s new roster in favour of Shakespeares after the Jackson Reforms to civil litigation costs made the company think again about its debt recovery roster (18 March 2014).