The next two years are crucial for Powergen. The gas and electricity giant is planning to purchase a major US utility and has set aside £3.1bn to do so.
The company already has links in the US. In 1993 it joined with stateside companies NRG Energy and Morrison Knudson to operate lignite mines and power plants in Germany.
But if Powergen wants to step up its US presence, it has a lot to prove after last year’s failure to pull off a merger with US-based Reliant Energy due to valuation and regulatory matters.
David Jackson, company secretary and general counsel at Powergen, says that the company will use Sullivan & Cromwell – which it has used for nine years – for legal advice on the US expansion .
But while the US is clearly a focus for Powergen, over the past couple of years the company has been at its busiest in Europe and the Middle and Far East.
Jackson says: “I tend to carve off America from the international side because the US is where most of the corporate work is based.”
Most recently, with the help of Ashurst Morris Crisp, the company increased its stake in an energy project, Paguthan, which it is involved in with Siemens and Gujarat Power Corporation in India.
Jackson says: “There is a lot of power demand there [India], it is a place we can do business.”
Jackson says that as well as its UK-based legal team, the company also has lawyers in Delhi and Kuala Lumpur.
Although Freshfields is one of Powergen’s main advisers, Jackson says he would not use the firm internationally just because it advises the in-house team in the UK.
“It does not have a natural right to do [work outside the UK]. But I do know its people and it has some good people there. Basically it is horses for courses.
“They line up alongside the others when we have international work. Quite often people can be conflicted out, they can be acting for banks so you cannot always get your first choice.”
Freshfields handles a lot of Powergen’s UK corporate work and headed last year’s billion-pound takeover of East Midlands Electricity.
Jackson says: “It was quite exciting. A lot of the focus was on the regulatory side as to whether or not we would be able to buy the company.”
He says the in-house team that worked on the acquisition was quite small but more time was spent on the actual integration of East Midlands Electricity into Powergen.
The company relies on Wragge & Co and Simmons & Simmons for a mixture of employment and energy advice, while Freshfields acts on pensions matters.
The 16-strong legal team is split between Coventry and London, where three lawyers handle mostly international and corporate work.
Jackson says: “I believe that the role of the in-house legal department is to ensure that the company in all its different guises gets top quality and top value legal service.”
Jackson adds that since much of Powergen’s legal work is specialised, “we developed our core in-house contractual legal skills and regulatory skills because obviously we work in a business that has economic and environmental regulators”.
Although Jackson is keen to emphasis the role of the in-house lawyer he says he does not try to conduct the majority of work internally.
“I wouldn’t say it is an absolute driver but I am realistic about what work has to go out,” he says.
Head of legal
|FTSE 100 ranking||77|
|Employees||7000 in the UK, 1000 worldwide|
|Legal function||16 lawyers|
|Head of legal||David Jackson|
|Reporting to||Ed Wallis, chairman and chief executive officer|
|Main location for lawyers||Coventry|
|Main law firms||Freshfields, Wragge & Co, Simmons & Simmons, Ashurst Morris Crisp, Shearman & Sterling, Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, White & Case, Sullivan & Cromwell, Swidler & Berlin|