Thomson Travel forms central legal function

Thomson Travel Group (TTG) is undergoing a radical review of its external firms as the company forms its first ever central legal function.

TTG owns a range of leading travel companies such as Britannia Airways, Thomson Holidays and Lunn Poly.

Until now it had separate legal provisions for individual businesses with no co-ordinated structure between companies.

Its current legal spend on external advice is estimated by group general counsel Richard Churchill-Coleman to be between £3m and £4m per annum.

The core firms used by the group are long-term advisers Allen & Overy for corporate, Norton Rose for aviation and corporate and Nicholson Graham & Jones for travel and tourism.

The group also uses a host of other, smaller practices. Churchill-Coleman is auditing exactly which firms are used for what across the group.

The centralisation of the legal department is part of an ongoing restructuring programme which began in December 1999. The aim is to move the focus away from individual companies to the TTG brand.

The in-house team now comprises nine lawyers, including Churchill-Coleman, who was former general counsel at Britannia Airways. His first priority will be to recruit four lawyers specialising in aviation, employment, IT and property.

The establishment of the central panel is expected to be completed within six months.

Churchill-Coleman says he is deciding how the review will be conducted and how he wants the final panel to look.

Costs will be an important element of the review but he adds that does not mean the legal spend will not go up. “We might get out there and find we need to spend more on an area where we are not represented,” he says.

“Some [firms] have got quite an extensive history. There is an advantage to that history but it is not everything. We are still very cost conscious.”

Churchill-Coleman was asked by the board to become group general counsel earlier this year. He has been with the group for just over a year after joining from DHL last spring.