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Bringing People Together


Elliot Moss, Director of Business Development at Mishcon de Reya. The first non-lawyer to be included in the FT's 10 most innovative individuals in the legal sector.

Entries for Legal Innovator of the Year in previous years have mirrored the times, focusing on ways of dealing with the banking crisis or on financial restructuring.

The financial crisis is still with us, unfortunately. But this year's entrants have concentrated more on getting the best out of their staff, marketing their wares and looking after their clients.

Dana Denis-Smith, chief executive and co-founder of Obelisk Legal Support, attracted the judges' attention with her firm's use of parent-lawyers who choose the hours they want to work. Given how many women now study law and the appalling drop-out rate as their careers progress (or do not), we thought she was addressing an important problem. Is this a way to ensure that parents, particularly mothers, can prosper in the law? The judges felt it was too soon to judge how successful this would be.

Darryl Cooke, founding partner of Gunnercooke, won plaudits for his drive to keep overheads down and charge clients fixed fees in different aspects of corporate law.

But once again, as the firm has been going only since 2010, we felt it still needed to prove this approach would be enduring.

Tim Jones of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer won admiration for leading his firm's advice to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. There were some examples of legal innovation in supporting this hugely complex and successful contribution to London's extraordinary summer - he was a strong contender.

In the end, though, the judges were delighted to award the prize to Daniel Winterfeldt of CMS Cameron McKenna. He has established two path-setting organisations: the Forum for US Securities Lawyers in London, addressing the application of and compliance with US securities law, and the InterLaw Diversity Forum for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Networks.

Both initiatives required spirit, leadership, courage and a willingness to bring people together in a highly competitive and sometimes conservative profession - all of which make him a worthy winner of our individual award.

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Winner: Daniel Winterfeldt, partner, CMS Cameron Mckenna

An American from Ohio now living in Europe, and a former medical student, Daniel Winterfeldt is the FT's 2012 legal innovator of the year.

With a track record building up US securities practices, most notably at Simmons & Simmons and now at CMS Cameron McKenna, Mr Winterfeldt has also created two innovative bodies to support his peers.

As a legal practitioner, his work includes representing international investment banks and corporate issuers in securities transactions. He is also the founder and co-chairman of the Forum for US Securities Lawyers in London, a 1,500-member, independent trade association founded in 2006. The forum represents US-qualified lawyers practising in the London capital markets as well as other market participants.

Mr Winterfeldt also set up the InterLaw Diversity Forum for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Networks in 2008. It has more than 900 members from over 60 law firms and 40 companies and financial institutions.

Other candidates:

Elliot Moss, director of business development, Mishcon de Reya

The first non-lawyer to be included in the FT's 10 most innovative individuals in the legal sector, Elliot Moss is Mishcon de Reya's director of business development. He joined the firm in 2009 from the advertising industry and used his 15 years' experience in the sector to revolutionise Mishcon's approach to business development, branding and marketing.

His work with Mishcon's senior management team has helped the firm's turnover grow from £47m to £73m in three years, and aided its move from a traditional private client image to one of a firm for business. Mr Moss's innovations lie in his ability to help change traditional law firm partner behaviour to adopt more modern ways of marketing, product development and client relationships.

In particular, he managed to get the partners to sign off on big media campaigns and partnerships, including with the FT, which have transformed the firm's brand.

Some of these activities include advertising campaigns, hosting a programme on Jazz FM, the radio station, interviewing influential people in business and society and the establishment of three digital TV channels.

In addition, Mr Moss forged a partnership with Quintessentially, the concierge company, to provide services to the firm's wealthy private clients. Mr Moss also redesigned the firm's corporate social responsibility programme, which resulted in it rising from 69th in 2009 to 23rd in 2012 in the Sunday Times' "Best Companies to Work For in the UK" ranking.

Francesco Portolano, founding partner, Portolano Cavallo

The seven-partner firm Portelano Cavallo, unusually for the Italian legal market, focuses purely on the media sector. Clients say Francesco Portolano, the firm's founder, leads "a team of lawyers who refuse to be limited to inside-the-box thinking". This approach has ensured the firm of a high ranking in the FT Innovative Lawyers report since 2009.

As a law firm manager, Mr Portolano has adopted forward-thinking management practices from the European market, such as hiring non-legal executives to manage the firm. A bold approach to brand identity distinguishes it from most Italian law firms. Mr Portolano also ensures the firm embraces female-friendly working practices, including educating clients about working with female part-time partners.

As a lawyer, Mr Portolano has advised media companies on how to navigate Italy's rapidly changing regulatory landscape. David Harleston, executive vice-president of business and legal affairs at Current TV, the US media company, says: "Francesco tackled each challenge with deep insight and a tireless fascination for innovative approaches, with the sort of dynamic legal skill set one rarely sees in Italian media counsel."

Tim Jones, partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

The decision five years ago by a leading law firm to become a key sponsor of the 2012 Olympic Games was not obvious: most law firms shun major advertising or branding exercises. But Tim Jones, senior partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, saw the value being involved in the games would bring the firm, particularly the London office. His big task was initially to convince his management team and partners.

The sponsorship was an ambitious multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder project unlike any other undertaken by a law firm. It went far beyond a sponsorship to being a partnership with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) - providing free advice on all aspects of the staging of the games.

Mr Jones was responsible for liaising with Locog and co-ordinating the firm's lawyers to provide advice, much of it extremely complicated - the torch relay alone required more than 7,000 contracts and a Freshfields lawyer followed the torch on its journey.

He has over 30 years' experience of big mergers and acquisitions transactions but says: "This is the most innovative thing I have done."

Gillian Bishop, founding partner, Family Law in Partnership

Gillian Bishop set up Family Law in Partnership in 1995 to provide a distinctive, client-focused approach to the resolution of relationship issues. Over a 30-year career, she has championed the collaborative approach, which allows couples to resolve issues relating to their divorce or separation in private, without involving the courts.

Ms Bishop and her partners introduced the practice of collaborative law in Europe in 2003 but had to wait until April 2011 for their approach to be adopted as best practice by the government.

The firm was consulted by the Family Justice Review group, which adopted all its recommendations. Anyone now wishing to issue family proceedings has to begin by undertaking a mediation and assessment meeting. "The government has finally caught up with us," she says.

Ms Bishop is exporting her collaborative model internationally, training Italian lawyers and running workshops in the US. She and her firm have also been the driving force behind "a kidspace", a social enterprise that supports children experiencing family breakdown, and the "Parenting After Parting" programme, which provides counselling and advice for parents going through divorce.

In the UK, Ms Bishop is one of just a handful of people who train barristers in the collaborative method of dispute resolution.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder, Obelisk Legal Support

Dana Denis-Smith is the chief executive and co-founder of Obelisk Legal Support, a venture born in 2010 out of her passion to re-engage highly skilled lawyers (96 per cent of them mothers) who leave the profession to raise families.

Ms Denis-Smith grew up in Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania and started her career as a local journalist in Transylvania before becoming a journalist and analyst with the BBC in Romania and Russia, The Economist, and Global Insight.

She then became a solicitor with Linklaters in London and Amsterdam before turning her hand to more entrepreneurial ventures, setting up Marker Global, the risk advisory consultancy, and Obelisk.

Just two years after it was founded, Marker Global was nominated for the 2009 Complinet "Consultancy of the Year" for its emerging markets compliance work.

In 2010, Ms Denis-Smith was included in Management Today's annual list of "35 Women under 35" awards for women who lead and inspire in business.

Obelisk, her latest venture, allows lawyer-parents to choose the hours they work. A core team in London acts as project managers, allocating the work to lawyers according to their capacity. Initial feedback on the company has been positive and it counts Deutsche Bank as one of its clients.

Ms Denis-Smith hopes Obelisk will go some way towards tackling the gender challenges facing the profession by providing a feasible way for full-time parents to return to work.

Geoff Wild, director of governance and law, Kent County Council, and co-founder, Law:Public

Geoff Wild is the director of governance and law at Kent county council where he has worked for more than two decades, and co-founder of Law:Public, a joint enterprise between Kent county council, and Geldards, the law firm, that gives local authorities access to bespoke legal advice. Law:Public is the winning entry in the Legal Industry Pioneers section in the 2012 FT report.

Local authorities' legal departments have often been perceived as inefficient and a drain on public finances. Mr Wild has shown that public-sector services need not be a burden for the community.

Public authorities from Dubai to the US are listening to Mr Wild explain how they can turn a liability into an income generator. His marriage of a public-sector ethos with private-sector principles has meant Kent county council now provides legal services for 350 other public bodies, generating £2m a year in external income.

Mr Wild is a founding member of the Eversheds/County Councils Benchmarking Group, that links public and private practice lawyers. He also advises the UK and Scottish governments' legal services on modernising and efficiency.

Howard Barrie, partner, Financial Institutions Group, Eversheds

Howard Barrie, a project finance lawyer, played a crucial role in bringing the first independent power project in Sierra Leone to a financial close. The Makeni bioethanol project, valued at €267m, is the largest international investment ever in Sierra Leone's agricultural sector, sparking a number of legal challenges and local sensitivities.

One of Mr Barrie's key innovations was to devise a solution to the local land issues that met the requirements of the official land law system and the traditional land law system in Sierra Leone. Land rights are a sensitive issue in many African countries, and Mr Barrie's solution could pave the way for other similar foreign investments in the continent.

Africa is a key theme in Mr Barrie's career. In his work with the East African Development Bank he invents new structures and plans to enable public-private projects in Africa. He has already closed a series of other financings in Uganda and Rwanda but says the Makeni project is among the most creative.

Karyl Nairn, partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

One of the world's leading international arbitrators, Karyl Nairn needed her wide range of skills to secure the release last year of Ron Fuchs, the Israeli businessman, from prison in Georgia.

Mr Fuchs was imprisoned in October 2010 as part of Georgia's effort to avoid paying him a $100m arbitration award. Using a combination of legal, economic and political pressure, Ms Nairn was able to secure Mr Fuchs's release and successfully conclude his battle for compensation in arbitration claims.

The case involved her learning about the Georgian criminal justice system, dealing with the Georgian authorities, going to Capitol Hill to involve the US government and subsuming criminal, commercial and human rights law. The stakes were high: Mr Fuchs's life was in danger in jail and Ms Nairn's strategy was risky and innovative.

For 18 months, Ms Nairn has been lead advocate for Altimo, telecom platform of Alfa Group and the largest shareholder in mobile giant VimpelCom, in a multibillion-dollar dispute with rival Telenor. She also successfully represented Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, in a $7bn dispute with former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

Darryl Cooke, founding partner, Gunnercooke

Darryl Cooke is one of the first top corporate lawyers to found a new-model law firm. With a background as a barrister, in-house lawyer and law firm partner, Mr Cooke, along with Sarah Goldbourne, is attempting to bring fixed fees, flexible resourcing and innovation into high-end corporate law.

Gunnercooke, set up in 2010, does not operate an hourly-based costing model. Instead all work is partner-led on a fixed-fee basis with assistants working on a virtual consultancy basis from locations around the UK. Most assistant consultants have been qualified for 10 years but charge out at a rate close to a first-year trainee at a mid-sized law firm.

Gunnercooke represents an attempt to see whether the new model can work for higher-value, partner-level legal work.

Over the past two years, the firm's turnover has grown from £150,000 to £1.6m. It has also opened a London office.

Mr Cooke was previously head of private equity at Addleshaw Goddard and DLA Piper.