Legal Business

Whitehall, Public Sector and Regulatory

Nick Olley: General counsel, Department for Transport

Team headcount: 93

Law firms used: Addleshaw Goddard, Allen & Overy, Burges Salmon, DLA Piper, Fieldfisher, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Hogan Lovells, Eversheds, Norton Rose Fulbright, Simmons & Simmons, Winckworth Sherwood

Following an extensive recruitment process across Whitehall and beyond, Nick Olley was appointed as legal chief to the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2013, and succeed the high-profile Christopher Muttukumaru, who is now a mediator at Monckton Chambers.

Olley was previously a partner at Burges Salmon, heading up its transport sector group, and previously led its commercial department. Since becoming involved in rail privatisation in the early 1990s, Olley has built up an impressive reputation as a transport specialist. He has previously led large teams and advised on complex transactions.

Significant mandates under his belt since joining DfT include working on the government’s £32bn HS2 high-speed rail network venture, which has seen dozens of lobby groups oppose the project.

The DfT is also embroiled in a dispute with Heathrow Airport over an annual £40m payment to link Crossrail to its stations. Heathrow has paid out more than £1bn building the Heathrow Express line connecting terminals with London’s Paddington station, and the government wants to use part of the line for Crossrail but is resisting the proposed fee.

The legal team is additionally involved in transport aspects of the devolution agenda, which relates to passage of the Scotland Bill, further devolution to Wales and the impact of English devolution, including the framework for sub-national transport bodies, such as Transport for the North.

And, following a report by the Competition and Markets Authority, the legal team is reviewing far-reaching proposals for the replacement of the current franchise system, which was established following privatisation under the 1993 Railways Act, with a licensing scheme on intercity routes.

The DfT will this year also be involved in an initiative to trial driverless lorries in the UK, with the government preparing to fund the trials as part of plans to speed up lorry deliveries, use less fuel, and cut congestion.

One partner at a City law firm comments: ‘Nick Olley is a very good leader. Only a couple of years into his job… he’s making a real success of it.’

Helen Vernon: Chief executive, NHS Litigation Authority

Team headcount: 250

Law firms used: Bevan Brittan, BLM, Browne Jacobson, Capsticks, Clyde & Co, DAC Beachcroft, Hempsons, Hill Dickinson, Kennedys, Ward Hadaway, Weightmans

The NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) appointed Helen Vernon as its chief executive in 2014 to succeed Catherine Dixon, who departed to become chief executive of the Law Society.

Beginning her career within the insurance profession, an interest in healthcare claims took her to the Medical Defence Union before joining the NHSLA in its infancy in 1998.

Vernon has managed complex and high-profile litigation against the NHS, including the Nationwide Organ Retention group action, where the High Court ruled that hospitals acted unlawfully in removing the organs of dead children without their parents’ permission.

The NHSLA is also increasingly contesting additional costs liability in cases where claimants secured legal aid funding prior to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act reforms in 2012. In these cases, claimants were given legal advice to switch to a conditional fee arrangement and after-the-event insurance model before the reforms were introduced in April 2013. Under Vernon’s leadership, the organisation has saved the NHS more than £107m through challenging claimants’ legal costs leading to an average 33% reduction in bills; and has saved more than £1.2bn by rejecting over 4,000 claims without merit, according to its 2014/15 report.

Her agenda since taking leadership relates to managing the costs of clinical negligence levied at the body, figures which are rising. The NHS in England paid out over £1.1bn in 2014/15 to lawyers and to patients who suffered harm, according to 2015 figures, while this year it is expected to total £1.4bn.

Jonathan Jones: Treasury Solicitor and head of the Government Legal Service, Government Legal Department

Team headcount: 1,424

Law firms used: 47 external law firms across eight divisions. The framework will expire in January 2017

Jonathan Jones took up his post as Treasury Solicitor and permanent secretary of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department on 1 March 2014, which rebranded as the Government Legal Department on 1 April 2015.

He serves as the government’s most senior legal official and as permanent secretary of the Government Legal Department, which houses 1,300 lawyers and has an annual budget of £180m, nearly all of which comes from fees charged to other government departments – a combination of hourly rates, usually for litigation work, and fixed fees for advisory work.

Jonathan Jones serves as the government’s most senior legal official.’

The team provides a full range of legal services to government departments and other public bodies, including expert advisory, litigation, commercial and employment law services; drafting statutory instruments and other subordinate legislation; advice on the development of new legislation; preparing instructions for bills to be drafted by parliamentary counsel and assisting in the handling of bills in parliament; and advice on legal policy and practice.

The department is also responsible for collecting, managing and disposing of ownerless property and other assets in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Several government legal teams have been brought into the department over the past two years, including the Home Office and Ministry of Justice under the line management of Jones.

In a period where the public sector is under immense pressure to reduce costs, Jones is tasked with demonstrating the team is working efficiently. Previous roles undertaken by Jones include serving as director general for the Home Office legal advisers branch from 2012-14; deputy Treasury solicitor at the Treasury Solicitor’s Department from 2009-12; director general of the Attorney General’s Office between 2004 and 2009; and legal adviser to the Department for Education.

Geoff Wild: Director of governance and law, Kent County Council

Team headcount: 125

Law firms used: None

With 125 lawyers, Kent County Council’s Geoff Wild is known for leading one of the largest and most forward-thinking teams of local authority lawyers in the UK. Specifically named Kent Legal Services (KLS), it operates as an in-house trading practice that generates its own income, serving over 600 clients nationwide from across the whole of the public sector, including providing ad hoc legal services to over 300 public sector bodies.

Wild has pioneered a structure that makes the legal team as distinct from the council as possible, while still sitting within the local authority’s Maidstone headquarters. Key initiatives include Law:Public, a joint venture with Geldards in 2013, aimed at further extending its geographical reach and the range of services, generating greater cost efficiencies at the same time.

In each of the three years to 2015, KLS averaged a profit of £2.5m on income of £8.5m, while between 2012 and 2015 it reduced the cost of service provision by £1.1m; saved £410,000 with advice on projects that would otherwise have needed external advice, generated £244,000 in income from 206 new external clients, and made £155,000 through various training initiatives.

Additionally it is now handling 1,000 hours of advocacy through in-house resources, five times the amount when the project started, and developed a series of workflows that automate the delivery of legal advice.

Wild is an advocate for pushing the remit of in-house counsel, and dispelling the image of local authority lawyers as bureaucratic civil servants and displaying their talents as entrepreneurs. Under Wild’s reign Kent County Council introduced its first trainee programme in 2013 in a bid to develop the next generation of lawyers.

As leader of the body’s democratic and member services functions, Wild is responsible for supporting the council’s decision-making and scrutiny processes, together with providing key administrative support to elected members. He is also the council’s senior information risk owner and responsible for the team who make sure the authority complies with the legislation that gives people a right to access publicly held information.

Public sector lawyers like Wild looking to reshape the in-house role are often restricted, as the Solicitors Regulation Authority places limits on the services in-house lawyers are able to provide. One option is the acquisition of an alternative business structure (ABS) licence and the council last year issued its tender for a commercial partner for an ABS but has yet to make a decision.

Wild started out in the mid-1980s as an articled clerk at Greater London Council, and served in-house at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and the London Borough of Wandsworth, before joining Kent in 1989.

Sonya Branch: General counsel, Bank of England

Team headcount: 100

Law firms used: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Travers Smith

Sonya Branch joined Bank of England (BoE) as general counsel (GC) in May 2015, a month after chief legal adviser Graham Nicholson’s decision to retire. It was a position she accepted amid difficult circumstances for the 322-year-old financial regulator. BoE had faced an independent investigation into its alleged role in manipulation of the foreign exchange market and was subject to an ongoing investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into its activities during the financial crisis, an unusual situation for the central bank of a major and trusted financial centre.

Branch was called upon from day one to help BoE deal with the reputational damage and ensure the investigation was concluded efficiently. Prior to her appointment, Branch held the role of executive director of enforcement and mergers at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), where she was well regarded as both a lawyer and problem solver.

Having begun her career at Linklaters, Branch was also previously a partner at Clifford Chance, where she specialised in financial services competition law.

Previous public sector positions include a stint at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as well as a board position at the Office of Fair Trading prior to its merger with the Competition Commission to form the CMA.

The GC role at BoE, which previously carried the title chief legal adviser, is the executive director for the legal directorate – responsible for providing legal advice to the bank as well as its subsidiary, the Prudential Regulation Authority.

High on BoE’s agenda will be contingency planning for the result of the upcoming Brexit referendum on 23 June.

Sean Martin: General counsel, Financial Conduct Authority

Team headcount: 70

Law firms used: Baker & McKenzie, Dentons, Kingsley Napley

Receiving high praise from disputes specialists, including Clifford Chance (CC) veteran litigators Simon Davis and Roger Best, is the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)’s high-profile legal chief Sean Martin.

Martin has built an impressive career in managing legal issues at government bodies. Having trained at Boodle Hatfield, followed by a stint at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, he spent five years at the Treasury Solicitor’s Department’s litigation division until 1998. He then took a year-long career break but ended up taking on a six-month stint at the Department of Justice in Hong Kong. Returning to the Treasury in 1999, Martin’s prominence in-house is evident from his multiple senior roles, serving as legal adviser at the Ministry of Defence, to manager of the law policy and international co-operation department for the enforcement division at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in 2004. In 2011 he was appointed chief counsel for the markets funds and authorisations department at the body before his promotion to general counsel (GC) in 2013.

Aside from overseeing a team of just over 70 at the UK watchdog, he has been responsible for legal advice and support relating to the transition from the FSA to the new regulatory architecture, now comprising the FCA, the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England.

Martin and his team are known for handling most legal work in-house, which can involve anything from the implementation of EU directives to regulating consumer credit companies. Its most significant work lately has been in the Forex scandal, where in November 2014 it fined five banks £1.1bn for failure to stop traders from manipulation of the foreign exchange market, a sanction that marked the first settlement in a global investigation and the largest-ever imposed by the FCA. It subsequently launched an industry-wide remediation programme to ensure firms address the ‘root causes’ of these failings and drive up standards across the market.

Martin is additionally cited for his handling of an investigation into the FCA itself last year, where it appointed CC’s Davis to report on its behaviour in leaking a business plan to The Telegraph to review certain long-term life assurance products, a move which caused £3bn to be wiped off share values. The report stated that Martin’s preventative approach, including advising the FCA board there was ‘material risk’, was sound.

With the FCA’s much touted senior managers regime coming into force this March, Martin is the most influential GC in the regulatory field.

Alun Milford: General counsel, Serious Fraud Office

Team headcount: 77

Law firms and chambers used: 5KBW, 9-12 Bell Yard, Blackstone Chambers, QEB Hollis Whiteman, Red Lion Chambers, Slaughter and May

Alun Milford became legal chief at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in April 2012, at a time when the body was lambasted in its investigation of real estate tycoons Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz and a raft of senior staff were exiting for high-profile jobs in the private sector, including his predecessor Vivian Robinson QC, who departed to McGuireWoods.

Since then, the agency has come under serious pressure to build a credible reputation as the UK’s main financial crime prosecutor and redefine itself within a highly politicised arena.

Milford is a key figure for the body with a wide-ranging background in investigating white-collar crime. He joined the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 1992 after working as a solicitor in a City firm and became a solicitor-advocate in 1999. In 2004 he joined the Attorney General’s Office, specialising in contempt of court and unduly lenient sentences. Three years later, he moved to the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office, establishing and leading its asset forfeiture division. He returned to the CPS in 2009 and was appointed to lead its organised crime division following its merger with the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office.

‘Milford is a key figure for the body with a wide-ranging background in investigating white-collar crime.’

While previous regimes had been criticised for a lack of prosecutions, the body has been in a more robust mode of late. The SFO has around 60 live investigations as of February 2016 under director David Green QC’s leadership.

During his time at the helm, Green has opened probes against the Bank of England over liquidity auctions during the financial crisis; supermarket Tesco over accounting irregularities; and engine maker Rolls-Royce over bribery allegations in Indonesia and China. This is against a tight budget with the agency’s annual funding stuck at around £33m for the past four years. SFO prosecutors asked the government for £21m in additional funding in January, the fourth such request in as many years and said £15.5m of this was needed urgently.

Milford has also been engaged with the SFO’s rolling out of the UK’s first deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), a US-style plea-bargain deal, which at the end of 2015 saw the UK arm of Standard Bank agree to pay $33m to settle an investigation into alleged bribes paid to the Tanzanian government to secure a $600m contract. Tesco is understood to be considering a DPA to settle its SFO investigation.

Howard Carter: General counsel, Transport for London

Team headcount: 200

Law firms used: Berwin Leighton Paisner, Dentons, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Gowling WLG, Herbert Smith Freehills, K&L Gates, Lewis Silkin, Trowers & Hamlins

A standout candidate for his work within the public sector, Transport for London (TfL) general counsel Howard Carter manages a wide spectrum of commercial and contentious issues for the biggest integrated public transport network in Europe, which carries more than 3.7 billion passengers annually and manages £23bn worth of assets.

Carter joined TfL in 2006 having been head of legal and procurement at the Greater London Authority for five years. A qualified barrister, he also previously served as director of legal and secretariat at English Heritage and has worked in local government.

Today he leads a full-service legal department, with a 200-strong team comprising 90 lawyers that shares its services across the public sector. Aside from handling TfL’s core commercial work for operations and capital that gets invested into the Underground, Carter also diverts legal resource towards the office of the Mayor of London, the British Transport Police, the London Legacy Development Corporation – which managed real estate deals for the 2012 Olympics – and handling issues over development and regeneration work for the London Transport Museum.

Ongoing issues include the high-profile London Underground strikes organised by employees over pay, safety, pensions and job security. TfL has also proposed a major regulatory crackdown on taxi app Uber, with a compulsory wait rule.

Carter says the team has ‘really been in the eye of the storm on Uber and regulation surrounding private hire of taxis’ but more significant development work is on the horizon. One of the largest land owners in London, TfL announced in October ‘eye-watering’ plans to create 10,000 homes in London with over 300 acres of land put forward for development, in a bid to generate £3.4bn in revenue over the next decade from advertising, sponsorship and property development to reinvest in updating the transport network.

Carter foresees data protection and privacy law as a ‘huge growth area’ for the public sector, while the team will see a new London Mayor elected in 2016, providing a potentially diverging policy landscape for the transport body.

With in-house legal functions clearly much less considered a bolt-on to businesses from the days when Carter started out, he says the hallmarks of a good GC are being ‘flexible and prepared to take on anything’. He adds: ‘Get broad experience – I’ve worked for many organisations which helps you come up with problems in different ways and view things from a different angle. You need to know your business.’

For further analysis, see: GC Powerlist 2016