Silverstone Case Study
David Thomson, Legal and Estates Director at British motor racing's flagship track, gets down to business with TLA.
The future looked bleak for Silverstone when Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone agreed a contract with Donington Park in 2008 to stage the British Grand Prix for the next 17 years.
But when Donington failed to generate enough interest in a bond to fund track refurbishment, Silverstone stepped in to scoop the 17-year deal.
“Managing director Richard Phillips and I are businessmen first, and motor racing fans second, I believe this has helped us make commercial decisions that are not emotionally driven,” says Silverstone legal and estates director David Thomson.
But Thomson is not just a hard-nosed businessman, he values the personal touch and that has been a key to his relationship with Technology Law Alliance (TLA).
Thomson and TLA client partner Stephen Ollerenshaw originally bonded because the Silverstone lawyer was moving to Leamington Spa just a few months after Ollerenshaw had moved there himself.
“I try to work with personalities rather than be a one-law firm shop,” he says. “And what we do is so diverse, you cannot use a generic all rounder, you need specialist advice.”
Ollerenshaw agrees: “I think David likes the fact that we’re a little bit different from other law firms. He’s a sole in-house lawyer and our aim is to be more like an extension of his in-house team.”
“To do this, we’ve tried to make an effort to understand the business, for example a huge percentage of their revenue comes from a single weekend: the British Grand Prix. That informs the advice we give about things like availability of the website, and the periods in which maintenance should be done.”
Thomson has worked at Silverstone for eight years and during that time his role has evolved from that of in-house lawyer to the Legal and Estates Director, who has to deal with all the real estate issues that accompany British motor racing’s flagship track from the new £30m pit and paddock to the company’s industrial estate.
The evolution and longevity of his role means that he is no longer as tuned to cutting edge legal issues as he one was. This is why he relies on specialists such as TLA.
“When I started talking to TLA it dawned on me that we do quite a lot of web stuff and I never really looked at it from a specialist legal point of view,” says Thomson. “It was a gap in the way I was providing services to the company.”
At first Thomson used TLA for small matters.
“I liked the way they wrote their agreements. They were written in plain English and they made sense.”
So when the company was relaunching its website, Thomson called Ollerenshaw at TLA. Before the law firm was involved Thomson feared development costs were on the verge of spiralling out of control.
“TLA made sure that a project stayed true. By bringing some genuine formality to the process with a proper contract it made the developers realise that we were on the money. It brought the whole project in to focus.”
“It’s an area where Steve understands the world and I don’t. I understand what we are trying to do on the web but not the legalese and the IP issues that come with it,” says Thomson.
And it came in at the right cost. It’s a big issue for Thomson, as it is for most in-house lawyers, and he takes pride in the fact that he has always managed to keep below the year’s stated legal budget. TLA provide clarity by providing him with an estimate for each project up front and then sticking to it.
“Value is really important and it’s something I really like about TLA,” says Thomson. “I know that I can call them and the clock doesn’t start ticking straightaway. I can use them and it comes with a rate and not an open-ended chequebook.”