02 January 2019

When The Crown Estate took the decision to dispose of a significant portfolio of properties, it was Burges Salmon partner Emma Folkes who got the call to assist.

Emma has worked with The Crown Estate, the commercial real estate business which returns 100% of its profits to HM Treasury for the benefit of the nation’s finances, for many years, but this was no ordinary project, thanks to the number of properties involved and the short timescale over which it had to be completed.

What was required was not only expert property law advice, but also first-class project management to oversee many small transactions running concurrently.

Rob Booth, General Counsel and Company Secretary at The Crown Estate, says: 'Getting this project right was really important to us, and it was absolutely critical that the work Burges Salmon did was done properly and done within the necessary timescales. The project comprised a lot of properties – which individually were not of substantial commercial value but as a portfolio, significant. Volumes such as this always make things trickier, because running the project requires tracking many individual properties through the process and keeping oversight of the status as a whole.'

Emma was able to streamline the process with the support of the firm’s Business Services team, setting up a central online working platform that all parties to the project could access, allowing The Crown Estate’s managing agents to upload relevant materials and to complete an online checklist for each property. An innovative system of document automation, supported by coding, allowed information to be extracted from the completed checklists to create bespoke documentation for each of the unique properties. The platform provided dashboard reporting and allowed Emma to update Rob and his team on a regular basis as to the exact status of the project.

'We hadn’t done anything like this with Burges Salmon before,' says Rob. 'We normally work with Emma on much more bespoke one-off acquisitions and sales. The technology worked really well and that was down to Emma’s careful consideration of what would be required at each stage.'

Emma says: 'The client had live visibility on progress and could see everything that was going on. We were able to ensure quality control and – when the time was right – produce an entire suite of documents to the buyer’s solicitors, who could see all the information online and in one place.'

Rob says: 'Emma has worked with us for many years and she knows us extremely well. She’s a really superb lawyer, but more than that, she brings this real thoughtfulness to a transaction that we really value. There was an in-depth understanding on the part of Burges Salmon that meant they were asking all the right questions of my asset management colleagues to extract the information that they needed. The firm put forward a proposed way of working to meet our specific objectives and executed extremely well.'

Further enhancing the collaborative nature of this relationship, since completing the portfolio project, Emma has spent four months on secondment to The Crown Estate to cover a sabbatical of one of the senior members of the legal team.

Emma says: 'During my time working within the legal team, I learned a lot more about how we can do our job in a way that works best for The Crown Estate, constantly being aware of what matters most to them and how we can further deliver our service in a way that best speaks to their priorities.'

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