Legal Business

BT

  • Group general counsel and company secretary: Dan Fitz.
  • Team headcount: 400 lawyers including paralegals.

BT’s standout legal team, led by group general counsel (GC) Dan Fitz, along with a senior management team that includes chief operating officer and director of compliance and ethics, Gareth Tipton, and GC for UK commercial legal services, Chris Fowler, has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation. Headlines include being one of the first in-house legal teams to obtain an alternative business structure licence and launching its now long-running and successful legal process outsourcing (LPO) venture. As a result, BT’s commercial external legal spend is down 90% since 2010.

Recent highlights for the team have included a landmark interim ruling from the Competition Appeal Tribunal against TV broadcaster BSkyB, which was ordered at the end of 2014 to make its sports channels available to rival BT, paving the way for BT’s YouView to air Sky Sports 1 and 2. Since moving aggressively into sports in 2012, BT’s legal team in 2013 helped to secure rights to broadcast the UEFA Champions League and Europa League from 2015. Within the legal team itself, 80% of low-value work is now handled offshore by Axiom, which at the start of 2014 won a contract to replace previous LPO provider UnitedLex. Tipton says: ‘We are pushing people up the value chain and being more cost-effective.’ BT’s overall legal spend is now split 58% internal and 42% external.

The team also set up a coaching and mentoring accreditation scheme for senior lawyers in 2014 to help with career development. Another initiative includes the establishment of Your Voice: a forum that includes representative lawyers from across all of the regions in which BT operates and communicates issues to the BT leadership team. The team also offers flexible working as a matter of course, and boasts a notable number of women in senior transactional and commercial roles.

In terms of its dealings with external law firms, BT operates a layered approach, with a regional network of preferred suppliers bolstered by Axiom, Obelisk Legal Support, Halebury, Shilton Sharpe Quarry’s Interim Solutions and NewGalexy. BT also typically fields more work out to regional law firms, with Wright Hassall undertaking a large and growing portion of its commercial instructions.

The telecoms giant has no minimum commitments to its external law firms and the panel is not fixed or exclusive. However, the work being fielded to external firms is becoming more niche – Bird & Bird used to undertake mainly commercial work for BT but, at the last review, around a third of its work related to competition or intellectual property litigation.

Fowler, who has been driving the Axiom deal and other new initiatives, says: ‘A lot of this comes down to leadership. I’m lucky that Dan said to me: “I want you thinking about the bigger picture.”’