Almacantar is best known as the owner of Centre Point, the tower block that looms large along London’s Tottenham Court Road. However, the property developer has also been involved in a number of high-profile deals including its purchase of One and Two Southbank Place for £550m. The sale of the Shell Centre was the highest-value real estate deal ever to take place on London’s South Bank.
Despite the high-profile deals Almacantar is a still a relatively small company and employs only 26 people. This includes the two-person legal team, which is made up of solicitor Linda Flavell and legal director Matthew Filkin.
Both lawyers have a background in real estate law and Filkin alone has advised on more than £5bn-worth of transactions during his career. However, with such a small legal team Filkin sees no point in dividing the work each lawyer carries out into categories. Instead, the duo work together on all the company’s legal issues.
Properties at the heart of London
Almacantar’s property portfolio consists of just five properties, but all are in the heart of London. Along with the Shell Centre the developer owns 125 Shaftesbury Avenue and CAA House near Covent Garden. However, the work Filkin has been particularly excited about recently revolves around Centre Point and Marble Arch Tower, which stand at either end of London’s busy Oxford Street.
“Centre Point is an asset that has had a bit of a troubled past – people have tried to make a success of it and not really managed,” says Filkin.
Despite the high-profile nature of the development Almacantar still had to carry out relatively normal aspects of real estate deals such as agreeing terms with a tenant who resided at the top of the building. However, Centre Point also comes with a number of complex issues due to the new transport infrastructure being constructed across London.
“In this particular site there’s a huge hole in the floor where Crossrail fits in for the station,” says Filkin. “So you’ve got the normal challenges of getting the planning consent on the one hand and then you’ve got neighbouring huge building sites on the other.
“We have to engage with Transport for London and discuss with them access to the site and getting the vehicles in there, so that’s something else to deal with.”
The legal work Almacantar carries out is often complex and, with a team of only two lawyers, Filkin often relies on specialist advice from external firms. However, the small size of the team does have benefits when it comes to integrating with the rest of the business.
“We’re part of the team from the word go,” says Filkin. “If we’re looking to buy something one of us will be involved with the due diligence and getting the thing over the line. It’s the same with planning, debt and construction. One of us will be there and sitting with the team in meetings.
“In some places you might be in an in-house legal function and you feel like you’re serving your clients, but actually you’re part of the team.”
Such reliance on external advisers means Filkin needs to trust the firms he uses completely. This means that his decisions on who to use are often based on past relationships and first-hand experience of how a firm operates.
No formal panel
Despite the small size of Almacantar’s in-house legal team Filkin has decided not to run a formal legal panel. Instead, he chooses the firms he uses based on the challenges of each deal. However, much of this comes down to the relationships that individuals within the company have with external lawyers.
“Obviously, Linda and I know lots of lawyers,” says Filkin, “but we have lots of talented people upstairs who have all got long backgrounds and have worked with lawyers as well.
“Whatever the work might be we will sit down with the team and say ‘this is probably the right person to do that’. We don’t have a panel and we don’t do beauty parades.”
Almacantar uses a number of firms including Ashurst, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, Shoosmiths and Wedlake Bell.
Although many of these have been picked up because of historic relationships, Filkin is often on the look-out for firms to use during deals.
“If there’s a firm on the other side of a deal and they’re really impressive we might get them in and talk to them,” says Filkin.
“Firms shouldn’t just try to impress their own clients, they should try to impress the clients on the other side of the deal, because real estate is a small world.”
Both Ashurst and BLP have worked for Almacantar and for companies on the other side of deals. This was the case when Almacantar purchased One and Two Southbank Place.
During the deal Ashurst and Freshfields advised Almacantar but BLP advised the seller Braeburn Estates.
Using firms that have worked for other parties might seem like a risky strategy but Filkin is not concerned about potential conflicts of interest, trusting that, should a conflict arise, the lawyers themselves would be the first to point it out.
— Jonathon Manning