Winners and finalists of the FT Innovative Lawyers award 2015

Two lawyers who have shown how to unleash the power of networks rose to the fore among our 10 finalists

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The judging session to choose the most innovative individual lawyer is always spirited. But the discussions have, in the past, resulted in a single winner emerging.

This year the list of 10 finalists was as impressive as always. But the judges could not decide between two contenders: Simon Harper, founder of LOD (Lawyers On Demand), and Shireen Irani, the principal mover behind iProbono and Fieldfisher’s director of corporate responsibility.

Mr Harper hit on the idea of a service that would provide lawyers on a temporary basis for in-house corporate legal departments and later for other law firms. Originally set up within the firm of Berwin Leighton Paisner, LOD has now been spun off as a separate entity.

Ms Irani’s iProbono project is an online platform connecting lawyers prepared to offer free services to civil society organisations. iProbono has teams in London and New Delhi, although it operates in 31 countries. The judges were particularly impressed with the legal support iProbono had been able to offer on child protection matters in India.

The judges felt both these contenders were tapping into the same phenomenon: lawyers increasingly want to work in different ways, whether flexibly or by offering pro-bono services.

As the argument continued on which of these two should win the award, some of the judges began to ask: can’t they both win? Why do we need to separate such worthy candidates? The rest of us could see no reason why not. So, in the 10th anniversary year of FT Innovative Lawyers, Mr Harper and Ms Irani are joint winners.

Winners

Simon Harper, LOD (Lawyers on Demand)

LOD (Lawyers On Demand) sent shockwaves through the legal industry when it was launched in 2007 as an original alternative legal services provider. Simon Harper, the man behind this idea, led the project to make it a successful and now independently managed business after it was spun off from Berwin Leighton Paisner as a separate entity.

Mr Harper developed the idea for LOD after observing contradictory pressures in the legal industry that were exacerbated by the global financial crisis: he recognised that while buyers of legal services needed to make their budgets stretch further, more lawyers were looking for flexibility and autonomy. Since being established, LOD has grown 700 per cent and now has a turnover of more than £12m and a team of more than 200 lawyers.

Mr Harper’s innovation has been copied by several big law firms in the UK. More than a third of the top 20 firms now have similar offerings.

But Mr Harper continues to innovate. He has developed an evolution of the LOD model that sends in teams of lawyers who use technology and data analytics to support in-house legal departments. This new avenue accounted for more than half of the 40 per cent growth LOD posted last year.

Shireen Irani, iProbono

Shireen Irani, Fieldfisher’s director of corporate responsibility, founded iProbono to provide an online platform for civil society organisations to engage with lawyers and students willing to provide legal assistance.

It was while she was reading for an LLM that Ms Irani recognised the desire of fellow students to contribute to society. But she also noted the absence of an easy and flexible way to do so. When she joined Fieldfisher in 2007, she decided to harness this potential and pitched her ideas to the firm, which lent its support to the organisation, which is an independent charity.

The success of iProbono revolves around a core team in London and New Delhi, led by Ms Irani. An easy-to-access networking platform caters for the limited resources of civil society organisations and the desire of lawyers to provide assistance in a flexible manner. It has a global reach, in 31 countries, with 1,200 organisations and 50,000 volunteers on its network who have varying levels of experience, skills and availability. The platform has a registration process, which is used to match projects to volunteers’ interests.

The organisation has provided legal support on a wide variety of issues, from child welfare, slavery, education and the environment to the rights of girls on the Indian subcontinent.

Other individuals

Camille Abousleiman, Dechert

Camille Abousleiman has been a driving force behind legal work in capital markets in the Middle East. In the early 1990s, while working in Latin America when the Mexican peso crisis struck, he sensed an opportunity for the development of capital markets in the Middle East, adapting new structures long before the investment banks.

His market firsts include the then largest international placement offering, the first equity listing of a Middle Eastern company on the London Stock Exchange, the first eurobond issued by a private company and a bank in the region and the first and second listings on Nasdaq Dubai.

Mr Abousleiman has guided transactions for sovereigns and companies through regime change, constitutional crises and assassinations. His work has helped to preserve investors’ access to capital markets under extraordinary circumstances — Egypt and Tunisia returned this year following the Arab Spring and subsequent upheavals.

Simon Baggs, Wiggin

As the head of Wiggin’s intellectual property and rights protection team, and managing director of Incopro, Simon Baggs has been at the forefront of the fight against the online infringement of businesses’ intellectual property.

Mr Baggs founded Incopro in 2012 after recognising that businesses were inadequately protected from growing global challenges in the form of counterfeiting and piracy.

But he realised that legal skills alone were not enough. Incopro therefore also offers technology and intelligence services that allow clients to counter threats.

In 2013, Mr Baggs achieved a groundbreaking success for the film industry. Under his guidance the sector won the first UK site-blocking order, which requires internet service providers (ISPs) to block subscribers from accessing websites that infringe businesses’ copyright.

In October 2014, he won another landmark victory for client Richemont. His advice acted as the catalyst for the luxury goods group to secure a court order blocking websites that infringe trademarks by selling counterfeit goods online.

And this March, a High Court order required the UK’s five leading ISPs to ensure that they blocked access to specific websites that allowed users to download films illegally.

Having identified a gap in the market for legal protection of intellectual property, Mr Baggs has significantly contributed to filling it, not just with Incopro but also with some important legal precedents.

Michael Hatchard, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

Michael Hatchard has played an integral part in the rise of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in the City.

He has been at the forefront of significant changes in mergers and acquisition law over an extensive career. He developed the use of demergers in hostile bids and created a new structure for hostile acquisition in the 1980s. More recently, he led the team on Pfizer’s bid for rival drugs group AstraZeneca and created the structure for more binding commitments and post-offer undertakings.

Invited to comment on the liability structures underwriting UK privatisations, he was appointed adviser to the government broker, where he created a structure that forms the basis for all UK government privatisations.

Mr Hatchard’s innovations also extend to new products. He was instrumental in developing a new topping insurance product for client Aon, following changes to the Takeover Code that removed break-fee protection for failed bids.

David Kerr, Bird & Bird

David Kerr has built his career on innovation in law firm leadership. He has driven Bird & Bird’s strategy of continuously developing technology-focused expertise. Under his leadership the firm has grown from a small, specialist London-based outfit into a network of lawyers in 28 offices and 18 countries.

Mr Kerr has also been determined not to abandon the firm’s heritage as one focused on intellectual property and technology. Instead, the firm’s growth has been strictly confined to these areas.

This has also been a key part of Mr Kerr’s international growth strategy: local market expertise combined with the international Bird & Bird brand — a formula used in the opening of the Sydney office in November 2014, when Bird & Bird merged with leading local technology and communications firm Truman Hoyle.

Mr Kerr has also overseen operational innovation, developing the Virtual General Counsel service to help resource companies with no internal lawyers; establishing Baseline, a joint venture with ASE Consulting to offer clients a multidisciplinary service; and launching a matter planning and profitability initiative to provide clients with more flexible and transparent pricing proposals.

Sir Nigel Knowles, DLA Piper

In just 19 years Sir Nigel Knowles has taken a Yorkshire firm that had its roots in a Sheffield debt-collecting practice and turned it into one of the largest firms in the world in revenue terms.

As head of Dibb Lupton Broomhead he first merged with Manchester firm Alsop Wikinson, but by 2006 his firm had a base in the City of London and a tie-up with US firms Piper Rudnick and Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich.

By 2009 his firm’s rapid expansion and work for the Prince’s Trust had won him a knighthood.

It was not all smooth going. As an early adopter of both a transatlantic link and the Swiss verein structure, under which affiliates remain separate entities, the firm that had become DLA Piper came under criticism.

But Sir Nigel’s commitment to making the structure work meant that other top firms have followed suit and the structure is now considered commonplace in the profession as the way to expand internationally.

Sir Nigel’s appetite for game-changing was further shown when he was one of the first senior lawyers to take advantage of the Legal Services Act, liberalising parts of the profession, to invest in the holding company of Riverview Law, which offers a different way of delivering legal advice.

Yulia Kyrpa, AEQUO

Yulia Kyrpa is an outstanding specialist in the field of banking and finance law, at a time of immense challenges. Ms Kyrpa has tackled the difficulties surrounding the 2014 Ukraine revolution with a commitment to reform.

Ms Kyrpa assisted the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on the launch and implementation of state insurance of household deposits and bank reform, bringing Ukraine’s legislation into line with best international practice.

Ms Kyrpa’s full-scale legal assistance for NCH Capital, a leading US private equity fund, was essential in achieving the acquisition of the insolvent Astra Bank from the state.

The deal brought new US money into the country, demonstrating to foreign investors that, despite the crisis, it was possible to enter into successful and credible transactions.

When President Yanukovych fled Ukraine, Ms Kyrpa and her team faced the challenge of finding grounds in the constitution to justify the appointment and scope of the temporary Ukrainian government.

And by finding innovative legal solutions Ms Kyrpa and her team ensured that Ukraine could agree borrowing from the EU.

Pádraig Ó Ríordáin, Arthur Cox

Pádraig Ó Ríordáin is a well-recognised name among leading corporate lawyers and has played a key role in the Irish banking crisis as part of the Arthur Cox team.

He trained in a Wall Street firm before joining Arthur Cox, where in 2003 he was elected managing partner at just 37 years old. He developed a new vision for the firm that would turn its focus from being a domestic Irish practice to one that could operate on an international stage.

Mr Ó Ríordáin, as lead external adviser to the Irish state, was at the centre of the Irish banking crisis, advising on the implementation of agreed bank guarantees. The nature of the crisis meant that every bank and building society was a risk to the state.

Against this difficult backdrop, but with no existing legal structures in place, Mr Ó Ríordáin’s team designed a legal framework that would preserve the legal integrity of the banks but enable the government to take the action it deemed necessary.

With that background it is perhaps not surprising that Mr Ó Ríordáin is a member of the European Commission’s Insolvency Law Expert Group, the advisory body to the Commission on the development of an EU cross-border regulatory crisis management regime.

Penelope Warne, CMS

Penelope Warne joined CMS as an oil and gas specialist in 1993 to set up the firm’s Aberdeen office. Twenty years later, she has built this specialism in her role as senior partner and head of energy.

She has applied herself to expanding the firm.

In 2014, swiftly after becoming senior partner at CMS, Ms Warne drove the merger with Dundas & Wilson that allowed the firm to become Scotland’s market leader.

One year on, revenue has grown 30 per cent and profits are up 15 per cent — making 2014-15 a record year for CMS.

Ms Warne has also led the firm’s international expansion, with offices being established in Brazil, Mexico, the Middle East and Asia.

She has also worked hard outside her field. She was instrumental in helping War Child, the firm’s charity partner, to raise £150,000 in five months. And she is passionate about helping female lawyers to break through the glass ceiling.

Her commitment to creating a leading energy practice, influencing the global energy debate and actively championing diversity and corporate social responsibility combine to form a picture of a lawyer who can innovate in not just one but a number of areas.

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