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The judges for the award for most innovative individual spent much time debating the relative merits of Edward Chan of Linklaters and Dan Wright of Osborne Clarke.

Mr Chan is the moving force behind Nakhoda, Linklaters’ artificial intelligence tool, which won the FT award for technology in this year’s Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers awards. Mr Wright won the judges’ admiration for his design of a comprehensive online system for Vodafone’s property services. After a long debate, the judges concluded that their contributions were equally matched.

However, having placed Mr Chan and Mr Wright joint second, the judges gave the winning innovative individual award to Nuala Mole for her work assisting separated children across Europe. Through founding the Aire Centre, which she describes as a “seven-person NGO”, Ms Mole has worked to help judges and lawyers understand how to use the law to protect children’s rights and develop best practice.

She has intervened in several cases before European courts, changing the way in which they approach cases involving children. As well as being impressed by the cross-jurisdictional nature of her work, the judges felt the award to her was timely during Europe’s refugee crisis and the arrival of many unaccompanied children.
Michael Skapinker


Winner: Nuala Mole

Founder, Aire Centre

© Charlie Bibby

Ms Mole set up the Aire Centre in 1992 to ensure people could enjoy the rights to which they were entitled under two European legal frameworks, the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ms Mole has more than 25 years’ experience litigating children’s rights. She set up the Separated Children project in 2015 to bring together law and practice from different fields and jurisdictions to enable European judges and lawyers to understand better how the law can be used to protect children’s rights and to replicate best practice.

Although the Aire Centre is only a seven-strong non-governmental organisation, it has tapped into a network of Europe’s senior judges and experts to persuade them to share knowledge and experience.

Ms Mole has also intervened in several children’s rights cases before the Supreme Court and the ECHR. The latter is now reconsidering the approach it takes to children’s cases.

Edward Chan

Partner, Linklaters

© Anna Gordon

Complex structured finance is where Mr Chan developed his legal skills, but he found his innovation métier in technological solutions to the complex challenges of automating legal services.

Mr Chan started Nakhoda, Linklaters’ artificial intelligence product, which won the firm the award for technology in the 2017 Asia-Pacific version of this report. He drove the project forward, ensuring it won backing from potentially sceptical senior partners. With Nakhoda now being rolled out to clients, Mr Chan’s vision is paying off.

He also led the development of LinkRFI, a software tool that helps ringfenced banks in the UK classify their financial institution clients faster and more accurately.

Unlike many lawyers, Mr Chan is not afraid of data and embraced its possibilities in 2014 when the banking union in Europe began.

His team analysed the balance sheets of all the banks to enable them to predict which banks had to raise capital and which might face regulatory scrutiny.

Jonathan Fisher QC

Bright Line Law

© Charlie Bibby

A desire to overcome the restraints of traditional law firms inspired Mr Fisher to establish Bright Line Law. The new business has a corporate structure and is authorised by the Bar Standards Board.

Having founded it on collaborative principles, Mr Fisher promises to find clients the best available team of legal experts, regardless of the firm or set in which they are employed. In this new model, he hopes to overcome the law’s “pomposity and continuing adherence to outmoded practice”.

The White Collar Crime Centre, which Mr Fisher set up in 2016, is a research and analysis centre dedicated to examining corporate wrongdoing and criminal law proposals that might affect corporate behaviour and financial crime. Its early successes include making sure trust beneficiaries are clearly identified in any documentation relating to a trust. It also helped ensure the Criminal Finances Bill of 2016 was more closely scrutinised by the UK parliament, particularly in regard to provisions on immunity for political office holders.

Libby Jackson

Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills

© Charlie Bibby

Ms Jackson is one of the few non-practising lawyers to be appointed a partner in a premium law firm. She heads HSF’s alternative legal services group, which offers cost-competitive products and services to clients to help accomplish their bigger legal projects more efficiently.

It is a mark both of Ms Jackson’s tenacity and the changing legal profession overall that HSF made this appointment. Her alternative career in the law began when she served as a practice group manager in the disputes department. In 2010, she was appointed to lead the Belfast office, which was set up to do work at a lower cost. The group includes more than 400 lawyers, analysts and technologists, and serves the firm’s international offices.

Ms Jackson had to overcome resistance from senior lawyers who thought legal work was beyond standardisation. She did this by building relationships with senior people and convincing them that delivery of legal services was changing irrevocably.

James Libson

Partner, Mishcon de Reya

© Charlie Bibby

Not only did Mr Libson lead his firm to win the Article 50 case against the UK government this year, but a fictional version of his younger self appeared in the film Denial, about the late-1990s libel case brought by Holocaust-denier David Irving.

Mr Libson has held various management positions at his firm, from heading the employment and litigation teams to his current role as head of Mishcon Private and executive partner.

His most high-profile work was the Article 50 case, for which his firm wins the Rule of Law award in this report. Mr Libson was the lead partner, acting for Gina Miller, a private citizen. He was not an expert on constitutional law, but he and other partners felt there was a case to be made that parliament must vote on starting the process for the UK to leave the EU.

Separately, Mr Libson has set up a continuous learning programme, the Mishcon Academy, to help young lawyers acquire the skills needed for a modern law firm. He has also become involved in a resettlement programme for Syrian refugees.

Ali Nikpay

Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

© Charlie Bibby

Gala Coral and Ladbrokes had been trying to merge since 1999. But repeated legal advice was that a merger of the second and third-largest retail bookmakers in the UK, involving over 1,000 shops was impossible.

Mr Nikpay, head of the UK competition group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, took a different approach, resulting in the UK Competition Authority approving the deal in 2016. He argued that the competition effects should be looked at on a local rather than a national level, and undertook a different economic analysis of the merger that is likely to affect future retail deals involving numerous physical premises.

Mr Nikpay is no stranger to difficult situations. In a storm of negative publicity, he led the Office of Fair Trading’s cartel and criminal enforcement division after the collapse of its first criminal prosecution. He did, however, overcome poor staff morale and public criticism by reforming the way the OFT investigated cases to impose two of the three biggest competition fines in the UK.

Other career highlights include helping to reform the UK’s system of private litigation in competition cases and setting up a Brexit working group to inform government policy on competition law.

Iranian-born Mr Nikpay spoke little English when he arrived in the UK as a boy after the overthrow of the Shah. His determination has helped him become a leading competition lawyer in Europe.

Kristina Nordlander

Partner, Sidley Austin

© Charlie Bibby

Ms Nordlander is prepared to take unconventional approaches to her cases. While her work often finds her in the highest European courts, she also understands that clients do not always want the dramatic solution.

She features in this report for her work for DocMorris, one of Europe’s leading online pharmacies, regarding online sales of discounted medicines. Her arguments convinced the European courts that a German law prohibiting the sale of discounted medicines online contravened the EU’s free movement of goods legislation. It led to a change in German law and has ramifications for the sale of online drugs in Europe.

Ms Nordlander believes in honing non-legal professional skills. She founded the Women’s Competition Network in 2008 and has linked more than 2,000 women involved in competition law and policy and made sure every European competition commissioner came to speak to them.

Javier Fernández-Samaniego

Founder, Samaniego Law

© Anna Gordon

In 2005, aged 34, Mr Fernández-Samaniego founded the Spanish office of Bird & Bird, the UK law firm, although Spain’s legal market was thought to have no room for another law firm.

Using a sector-focused strategy, it flourished in a tough economic climate in Europe.

The experience gave him the skills to found what he calls the first “Iberoamerican alternative law firm”, Samaniego Law, in 2017.

He also opened offices in Madrid and Miami, positioning the firm as a hub between Europe, Latin America and the US.

Mr Samaniego has sought to create a legal business that combines technical lawyering with cost-conscious resourcing and technology for clients.

He works with a range of firms and individuals — such as “a crazy mathematician former client” who heads Samaniego Law’s contract management and artificial intelligence unit, or alternative legal businesses such as UnitedLex, to give clients cost-effective answers to daily legal questions.

Mark Sterling

Partner, Allen & Overy

© Charlie Bibby

Mr Sterling is head of Allen & Overy’s global restructuring and insolvency practice. This highly skilled technical lawyer’s deals have been ranked in the FT Innovative Lawyers reports consistently since 2008, when his work on the Schefenacker restructuring helped avoid 8,500 job cuts and the car-parts company filing for insolvency in Germany.

Since the financial crisis, Mr Sterling’s clients have faced many difficult situations. However, his imaginative approach yields solutions to seemingly intractable situations. Instances include work on the restructuring of the Co-operative Bank in 2013, which involved convincing the UK Treasury and Bank of England that a rescue was possible. He was involved in the recapitalisation of Greece’s Piraeus Bank and an asset recovery exercise after the collapse of OW Bunker Group, the Danish shipping fuel supplier.

His ranked work in this report includes an approach to delay a company restructuring in the bond market until a deal had been negotiated.

Dan Wright

Partner, Osborne Clarke

© Anna Gordon

After 15 years as a corporate transactional partner at Osborne Clarke, Mr Wright wanted to shift the focus from billable hours to clients’ needs.

Since 2015 he has led the firm’s service delivery innovation programme. Having taught himself coding in order to understand technology and its constraints, Mr Wright has developed a team that aims to bridge gaps between the law, tech and clients.

His belief that simplifying problems leads to better outcomes can be seen in his design of a “cradle-to-grave” online system for all Vodafone’s property services, where an in-house lawyer described him as “tech-y, but still a lawyer who knows the platform inside out”.

These skills shaped the development of an online process for post-completion work on mergers and acquisitions and banking transactions.

Mr Wright calls this an “example of my past life giving me the opportunity to show an internal audience what can be achieved by digitally transforming prior practice”. 

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
About this series

In this edition: — the rule of law, legal equality and political freedom —the top 50 law firms and legal service providers; in-house legal teams ranked for innovation alongside firms; top 10 individual innovators; the rule of law and access to justice; and collaboration as a business model