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Government finance ministers and stateless mid-transit migrants inhabit very different ends of the corridors of power — and yet their need for innovative thinking in legal advice appears equal. So, for our judges in this Innovative Practitioner category of the FT Innovative Lawyers awards, the challenge was assessing how well the shortlisted lawyers delivered this advice, as well as the outcomes they achieved.

On that measure, José Alberto Navarro’s pro bono work for detained migrants and refugees earned him a fourth consecutive appearance in this annual FT report — and much commendation for the quality and energy of all his work on behalf of the vulnerable.

But it was the industry-wide recognition of the clarity of her advice on post-Brexit financial services that won Rachel Kent most support from the panel, and made her our clear winner.

To be the lawyer of choice for both the UK Treasury and those City of London firms most affected by its policy suggests an ability to com­municate complex changes affecting thousands of jobs and billions of pounds.

Profiles compiled by RSGI researchers and FT editors. “Winner” indicates an Innovative Lawyers 2023 award, the rest are in alphabetical order. The judging panel is listed below.

WINNER: Rachel Kent, partner, Hogan Lovells

Rachel Kent had never set out to become a policy adviser, but her experience as a financial services lawyer was a strong asset when she became involved in policy discussions in 2016. She wrote post-Brexit responses on behalf of lobby group TheCityUK and governing authority the City of London Corporation. Later, she was asked by the City of London and trade body UK Finance to draft a proposed memorandum of understanding between the UK and EU on issues such as “passporting”, which ensures banks’ continued access to markets.

Kent was also appointed by the UK Treasury to chair a review of investment research, published in July. Her recommendations, all of which have been accepted, include more funding for research, which would enable more accurate valuations of small and medium-sized companies.

Ffion Flockhart, partner, Norton Rose Fulbright

While many law firms are building “one-stop-shop” services to help clients respond to cyber security crises, Ffion Flockhart favours a different approach as co-head of the law firm’s data privacy and cyber security practice.

She has built a multidisciplinary team to help bring diversity of thought to the firm’s cyber crisis response but, for the most serious breaches, she also calls on the expertise of external contacts in forensics, crisis PR, and ransom negotiation. Ransomware attacks — when cyber criminals steal a company’s data and demand a ransom for its release — are the most prevalent threats she deals with.

Flockhart encourages her team to help clients facing a cyber attack to balance caution with the need for a fast response. As it is high-pressure work, she has employed a manager to support team members under stress.

Etay Katz, partner, Ashurst

Etay Katz and his team advised investment bank Goldman Sachs on its development of a digital assets platform on private blockchain technology. In addition to technical legal expertise, the project required the lawyers to have a strategic understanding of international finance and the implications of the new tech in order to advise on the platform, which allowed the bank to facilitate speedy exchange of digital assets in a way that a clearing house normally would.

Before he began specialising in financial technology five years ago, Katz spent most of his career in financial regulation, advising banks and other institutions, such as the UK’s Law Commission, an independent body that keeps legislation under review. He joined Ashurst two years ago, and is a member of the innovation advisory group at the Financial Conduct Authority, the UK watchdog.

Cristina Mesa, partner, Garrigues

Intellectual property lawyer Cristina Mesa is at the forefront of work to establish the copyright implications of new technologies. In February, she secured the declaration of the Ferrari 488 GTB sports car as a work of art — the Alicante court ruling prevented unauthorised digital reproductions of the car’s bodywork being made using 3D scanning and sold as “one-off models”. It ensures only Ferrari has the right to define the appearance of its cars.

Mesa has also contributed to the development of intellectual property law in Spain through two Supreme Court cases. She acted for carmaker Kia’s Spanish subsidiary Kia Ibérica, arguing that software functionalities were not protected after it was accused of plagiarism, and represented Spanish tech company Infonis, arguing for protection and compensation for its database, which US competitor IMS Health had used without permission.

Angus Miln, partner, Taylor Wessing

Capital markets lawyer Angus Miln is helping young start-up companies deal with the legal challenges that come when securing early-stage investment. Miln and his team developed a digital platform that provides automated but tailored legal support, as well as giving investors and companies shared access to useful data.

As clients experiment with blockchain technology and digital assets, Miln has led training for fee earners at the firm in this area, so they can better advise on the legal implications. He also led the creation of an employee incentives programme in which colleagues can award digital tokens to peers to recognise their contributions to the firm.

Miln advised the UK government on the Future Fund, set up to help start-ups access capital during the pandemic, and helped to create a crisis task force after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.

José Alberto Navarro, partner, Uría Menéndez

Pro bono lawyer José Alberto Navarro has influenced the development of the law in Spain through his human rights work. Projects led by him have been ranked in each of the last four FT Innovative Lawyers reports. In 2022, the firm won Spanish nationality for a girl born while her mother was travelling to Europe via Morocco from Cameroon and not registered. The lawyers argued that being granted Spanish nationality was critical to ensuring her fundamental rights.

In 2020, Navarro and his team forced the Spanish government to admit responsibility in the death of a Congolese immigrant held in a Spanish detention facility. The year before, they secured refugee status for a mother and daughter from Ivory Coast — despite laws denying asylum for gender-based claims — by arguing that the threat of female genital mutilation was justification for it to be granted.

Dóra Petrányi, partner, CMS

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, central and eastern Europe managing director Dóra Petrányi led in setting up location alerts for employees at the firm’s Budapest office, offered Ukrainian colleagues refuge in the city, and supported humanitarian charities.

In eight years in her role, Petrányi has established the firm in central and eastern Europe as an outsourced legal team supporting clients across the region, drawing on her in-house experience at Hungarian telecoms operator Magyar Telekom and prioritising use of technology. She and the team have produced reports on topics such as the challenges of 5G.

Petrányi is co-chair of the Hungarian AI Coalition’s regulatory and ethics committee, which aims to develop the country’s standpoint on AI regulation. She is also on the international board of the Global Telecom Women’s Network.

Joydeep Sengupta, counsel, Mayer Brown

Admitted to the Paris, New York and Ontario bars, and speaking six languages, Joydeep Sengupta has broad international expertise.

He has built a cross-border litigation practice in Paris to serve financial institutions in France, helping them navigate regulation and sanctions in the context of sensitive investigations and litigation. He has conducted cross-border research projects into money laundering and investigations into sanctions violations across European, Asian and North American jurisdictions.

Sengupta is committed to diversity in the firm and takes pride in hiring and mentoring lawyers from under-represented backgrounds.

Born and raised in India, he has a special interest in social justice in the country and is among the individuals taking the Indian government to court to sue for marriage equality.

Mélanie Thill-Tayara, partner, Dechert

Competition lawyer Mélanie Thill-Tayara has advised some of the biggest global companies in disputes with the French competition authority. When Apple was fined €1.1bn in 2021 — the biggest fine ever levied by the competition regulator — for allegedly forcing retail resellers to align prices with its own shops and website, Thill-Tayara argued Apple had the right to organise the delivery allocation aspect of its distribution model. The appeals court accepted this and reduced the penalty by two-thirds to €371mn. Apple continues to appeal the remaining fine.

In 2020, when pharmaceutical manufacturers Roche and Novartis were fined €444mn for allegedly pushing their jointly marketed eye medicine Lucentis over a cheaper alternative, Thill-Tayara successfully argued that these were not competing products. The court agreed and annulled the fine.

Michael Watson, partner, Pinsent Masons

Michael Watson, the law firm’s longstanding head of finance and projects, was chosen two years ago to run its new climate and sustainability advisory team and establish it as a core business line.

Watson was integral to the firm’s acquisition this year of Morgan Green Advisory, a sustainable finance consultancy, to bolster the team’s ability to advise on environmental, social and governance policies, risk, audit and disclosures. He has built up the climate and sustainability advisory team’s products and services, constructing a wider advisory group in addition to the core team.

Watson also helped set up the firm’s own sustainability targets and policies, and started a training programme with Oxford university’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, to improve colleagues’ knowledge of climate-related matters.

Judging panel

For the Innovative Practitioner and Intrapreneur awards, winners were selected by judges from a shortlist compiled by RSGI.

The panel comprised:

  • Matthew Vincent, editor, FT Project Publishing (panel chair)

  • Harriet Arnold, assistant editor, FT Project Publishing

  • Amy Bell, commissioning editor, FT Project Publishing

  • Jane Croft, law courts correspondent, FT

  • Yasmin Lambert, managing director, RSGI

  • David Fisher, chief executive, Integra Ledger

  • Sam Grange, knowledge engineer, iManage

  • Nick McCarthy, account executive, Ironclad

  • Kirsten Maslen, director, market development, Thomson Reuters

  • Moray McClaren, founding partner, Lexington Consultants

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