Keeping the world’s most complex event on the right side of the law

Marc Sidwell
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Tim Jones explains why Freshfields is the official legal services provider to the 2012 London Olympics

Q. what was your brand’s primary reason for being involved with the games?

A. We’d been involved for a long time, since 2003 when we worked on the bid. It seemed a longshot then, but we still thought that there was a strong case for bidding as it would keep London in the forefront of global attention. We’re a global firm and the international nature of the London business world is critical for us. London 2012 is an extraordinary opportunity when you think of who else has been hosting the big sporting events recently: China for the Beijing Games; South Africa for the World Cup; next up, Winter Games in Russia, then South Korea; Summer Games in Brazil; football in Brazil, Russia and Qatar. All the new and emerging markets are absolutely represented but the one place, in this extraordinarily important decade when we’re trying to redefine the world order a little bit, the one developed market that has the opportunity to really set its stall out to the world is London.

On a more micro level, it is fantastic being part of the sponsor group – many of them are clients and strengthening and deepening our relationships is a great opportunity for us. Clients in general are just fascinated by the Olympics. Every event we organise with Olympic speakers is fantastically well-attended and has great feedback.

Of course if someone has picked you to do the legal work for the most complex event in the world that’s also a good thing in its own right. One of the reasons I think we were selected was because we’re able to handle problems across a very wide range of legal disciplines. Litigation, planning, competition law, employment – we have strong practices across all those areas. We’re not a one-trick pony. This involvement allows us to say to the world: the Olympic and Paralympic Games present a pretty complex set of legal problems, it’s not transactional like a single IPO or M&A deal, it’s about a longstanding relationship with a client over many years, servicing all their needs across a whole range of disciplines. Everyone knows what the Olympics is, so it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that breadth.

There’s also an internal strand – it’s a very cohesive thing to have in the office. Some people don’t like sport but add in the Paralympics and the Cultural Olympiad and you reach almost everyone. In a big, outward-facing office, you need things that bring you together internally.

We’re still using it for recruitment, too. The people we’re recruiting now won’t arrive until it’s a memory, but we’re using it to say to people – this is the sort of thing we like to do and the sort of thing we entrust to our junior lawyers, as they have been a lot of our secondees to the London organising committee (Locog).

Q. how did you structure the case for involvement internally?

A. At the time the decision was taken, we had work to do on all the fronts I’ve mentioned and this seemed to be a very effective catalyst across all of the areas where we had identified things we wanted to do. We did feel in 2008 that Freshfields was not perhaps recognised as a brand in the way that some of our competitors were and that the strength and range of our practices wasn’t fully recognised. So it ticked a lot of boxes.

Q. what are the most crucial commercial opportunities of the games for you?

A. By the time we get to the Games we should feel we’ve done our part. We’re not supplying 1m plastic cups or something. What’s interesting are the future opportunities. We’re on the Sochi legal panel for the Winter Games in 2014. That’s quite a narrow group of potential clients, but more broadly we will be able to use this for a while as a case study and demonstration of what Freshfields is about.

Q. how are you handling tickets and hospitality?

A. We’ve given every permanent member of staff in the London office, some 2,000 people, an Olympic or Paralympic ticket, just as a thank you. Then we are inviting UK clients and senior people from our international clients to come and be in London and the take up has been very good on that score. Quite apart from the running and jumping, the Olympics is an incredibly important business event because it brings everyone here.
Q. what has surprised you most about your involvement?

A. I probably shouldn’t have been, but just how much legal work there is involved. It’s certainly often suprising to outsiders. The Locog legal team has had to deal with tens of thousands of contracts and arrangements. The scale of legal involvement that they’ve been managing and we’ve been supporting has been extraordinary: from intellectual property protection for Olympic symbols to real estate arrangements for pre-existing venues like Wimbledon to questions around the tax status of athletes.

Tim Jones is Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s lead partner for London 2012.