Legal Business

Telefónica UK

  • General counsel: Edward Smith.
  • Team headcount: 33 lawyers.

There are few GCs like Edward Smith, who push their team members outside the remit of the traditional in-house counsel role. But the former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer lawyer encourages his team to think about gaining experience across the Telefónica UK business and less about behaving as lawyers.

Indeed, Simmons & Simmons partner James Cotter observes: ‘Ed Smith has a strategy of having versatile lawyers and moving them around different areas because he thinks it’s good to have cross-disciplinary people across the business. They’re very cohesive and are an excellent team.’ To remain attuned to the wider business, the legal team has adopted a model whereby each legal team head was appointed a ‘dancing partner’ on Telefónica’s board to embed themselves with leadership teams to attain greater knowledge of the business. Counsel also attend weekly leadership team meetings and core work includes negotiating key devices contracts with telecoms and technology giants, including Apple.

In the last two years the team has further managed a substantial feat in reducing its external legal spend. Led by Smith, savings for the 2014 financial year were £1.4m (47%), totalling £2.9m (66%) over two years.

Having taken over the role in 2011 following a reorganisation of the Spanish giant’s UK and European operations, Smith tends to recruit bright junior lawyers, eschewing the hire of bigger names in favour of putting in place a career structure and stretching his pennies further. Of those, cited names to watch include Julia Boyle, who began as an intellectual property lawyer and was recently made head of market and consumers, and also works on women in leadership initiatives. Another is Sophie Service, an ex-Ashurst disputes lawyer who has climbed the ranks to deal with complex regulatory-infused claims.