Keith Barnett

Despite some heavyweight clients and major deals under his belt, Garretts’ head of property Keith Barnett believes in a life outside of the profession. Fiona Callister meets this self-confessed Arsenal fanatic

Normally when firms win a large deal it is hard to get them to stop talking about it. Not so with Garretts’ head of property, Keith Barnett, whose department recently handled the first major acquisition of a £200m property fund set up for Scottish Widows – a portfolio of 33 properties sub-purchased from Green Properties as part of P&O’s recent sale to Green of its £440m estate (The Lawyer, 19 June).

The deal came at the expense of Freshfields, which handles the bulk of Scottish Widows’ work.

Instead Barnett is keen to assert that Scottish Widows is not the only big hitter the department acts for and plays down the property fund. “It’s not the first big client that we have won in property. We have already acted for a large number of high-profile clients for whom we are the second or third stream lawyers,” he says. “For many years we have acted for Deutsche Asset Manage-ment. We are working on a panel of five for BG. We did all the legal work on the London Eye, and British Airways is the single largest client of the London practice.”

Barnett also seems very nonchalant about the fact that Garretts is the second or third choice for the blue-chip clients.

He is realistic about the capabilities of a firm that has only been up and running for seven years and started with only three partners, including one property partner – namely Barnett himself.

He recalls the early days when he would go to pitches for clients. Having to wear several hats, Barnett jokes that when a client asked who the construction lawyer was, he would swap seats before confirming that that job was also his.

He says the firm’s future lies in client diversification, as clients no longer expect to send all their legal work to one firm. He says: “I am already beginning to see a pattern where we will be selected for certain things. Companies want back-up on big corporate deals.

But Barnett believes that the cult of personality in the law can only work in Garretts’ favour. “I think clients will go to people rather than firms,” he says. “Some clients get foisted with the big five firms but otherwise the reason a firm has a client is because the client likes them.”

Obviously a trump card in Garretts’ hand is the international network provided by Andersen Legal.

“It has been expressed to me that the brand name Andersen Legal sounds like an in-house department,” admits Barnett. “But inevitably we are going to do well for clients who are looking to utilise our European network. For example [hotel group] Regus wanted to have a single point of contact to which it could go for every area it works in.

“We have now come to an arrangement where we are going to work for [Regus] in 30 countries but have a single point of contact, and a report goes out from us which covers every transaction. We do all the documentation in English and give it one rate that covers the whole of Europe. That sort of thing makes a big difference.”

One of the first jobs that Garretts did for Regus was a hotel reorganisation in seven or eight countries which Barnett says was not rocket science but needed doing immediately. One of the links in the Andersen Legal chain let Barnett down, but a swift call to the managing partner reminding him that it was not the reputation of his partner or office that was at stake but that of the whole network, and the problem was resolved.

“That had more effect than any client ranting and raving saying, ‘where is our work?'” smiles Barnett.

On showing me into the office, the woman from marketing tells me that Barnett is a “real character”, which in marketing parlance usually means that they would rather be stuck in a lift with Hannibal Lecter. But Barnett is a genuine character. When I enquire as to the reason for a two-foot high trophy placed behind his desk, he gives me a brief explanation – pub quiz in aid of Jewish Care – but then tells me that he is far prouder of the signed David Seaman photo behind me.

But the fanatical Arsenal supporter did concede that his hero ought to be dropped from the Euro 2000 side. Unfortunately, this argument has now been proved academic.

Barnett is a great believer in lawyers having time to watch the football, play golf, go to yodelling lessons or do whatever they choose to spend their spare time on. “We simply don’t believe that people perform at their best level under pressure and we have a strong belief in life outside work. We budget on 1,400 hours a year which is around six-and-a-half hours a day, so work is not a picnic but it’s a bit more sensible than some,” he says.

“I don’t subscribe to the 2,000 hours a year camp. There is something close to greed on the part of a partnership that demands those hours. That demands that you bill eight hours a day and so you are working 12 hours a day as an average.”

But Barnett says that years ago he came to terms with the fact that he could not put his three young children to bed every night and that he must work an average 12 hour day, but in return his weekends are sacrosanct.

This is partly because as an orthodox Jew, Barnett does not work from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, which means during the winter he has to leave work early. “But I am conscious of how that looks so I put in the hours during the rest of the week,” he says.

Barnett has recently lost an internal battle with Garretts on the dressing down debate. He admits that he was wrong to oppose theadds: “If you are 28, tall and good-looking then idea but it’s a great idea. It’s not so great if you are fat and short and not 28.

“Still, the only difference it seems to have made is that the local Armani store is doing better at the expense of Austin Reed.”
Keith Barnett
Head of property