Significant matters – Autumn 2016

Panel roundup

Unilever is currently carrying out an informal review of its panel firms, after the existing roster expired in June 2016. Led by operations legal director Saswata Mukherjee, the last panel review began in February 2014 and constituted the company’s first formal panel arrangement.

Meanwhile, Australia’s largest global insurer QBE is set to launch a review of its UK claims legal panel, following the appointment of a new group general counsel Carolyn Scobie earlier this year.

The UK panel, which was last reviewed in 2014, is responsible for servicing a large number of disputes and litigation work for the insurer.

HP, the largest successor company of Hewlett-Packard, is set to unveil the results of its recent global law firm panel review. HP sent a 17-page request for proposal to law firms over the summer and the new panel will run for two years from 1 November until 31 October 2018. Firms receiving more than $5m a year from HP in legal fees are required to provide lawyers on secondment, with the tech company also stipulating that offices used outside of the US use local rates.

Other major UK plcs to review their external legal counsel include Barclays, which handed firms including Clifford Chance, Simmons & Simmons, Ashurst, Hogan Lovells and Reed Smith spots on its global legal panel, but also cut back its number of go-to advisers by over 60%. The review also saw DLA Piper lose out on a place after it was disinvited from pitching.

New broom

The Royal Bank of Scotland kicked off a review of its 400-strong legal team in a bid to control costs and drive efficiencies in early summer. The process, which is being carried out by general counsel Michael Shaw, the former Barclays deputy GC, could potentially lead to staff redundancies and follows chief executive Ross McEwan’s warning in February that a further £800m of cost savings will be made in 2016. In March the bank cut almost 1,600 jobs across the business as part of a major cost cutting exercise, a move that mainly affected back-office and middle-office positions, including support and technology services for frontline staff.In-house mentoring

Miller time

SABMiller’s global general counsel John Davidson will stand down in 2017 after the brewer’s $104bn takeover by AB InBev completes. In addition up to 35 staff in SAB’s UK-based legal team are to be made redundant as the two teams consolidate. The newly-combined company will be based at AB InBev’s headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, and will have a management office in New York, where AB InBev legal head Sabine Chalmers is currently based.

Rules and regulation

The Law Society has warned there is a risk of conflict if general counsel in financial services are included by the Financial Conduct Authority in an updated Senior Managers Regime (SMR). The regulator said in September that the SMR has the potential to put lawyers in conflict with their employer, which could affect their ability to provide full and frank legal advice. It also raised ‘serious concerns’ about the erosion of legal professional privilege.

Royal Mail revamp

Royal Mail group general counsel Maaike de Bie has led an overhaul of the postal service’s legal department after taking the top job in April this year. De Bie, who previously served as deputy GC, has restructured the team of 30 lawyers into four larger groups, moving away from siloed specialisms such as property or pensions. She has also removed the deputy GC role, opting for four assistant GCs leading each of the legal subgroups.

Preparing for the worst

Data released by Thomson Reuters in September shows that FTSE 100 companies set aside £31.3bn in the last year for legal provisions, a rise of 22% from £26.5bn the year before. The financial services sector’s anticipation of a surge in disputes and regulator fines had contributed towards much of the sharp rise.

Moves that matter

  • Former BG Group general counsel and ex-Allen & Overy partner Graham Vinter is to join Covington & Burling’s London office to chair and supervise the expansion its project finance practice.
  • Lawyers On Demand practice development director Tim Bratton is to return to in-house after three years at the contract lawyering business, taking up a role as Euromoney Institutional Investor general counsel and company secretary.
  • UK electronics business Dialight has appointed its first general counsel, bringing in Chris Fussell from business process and technology services provider Xchanging following a management shake-up.
  • Time has reshuffled the leadership within its in-house legal team with the appointment of Lauren Ezrol Klein as general counsel. Klein steps up from deputy general counsel and succeeds Lon Jacobs, who left in early September.
  • Valeant Pharmaceuticals has appointed Christina Ackermann as its new general counsel, replacing Robert Chai-Onn as the pharma group’s top lawyer, with the latter set to depart after more than a decade at
    the company.
  • Following the retirement of Marks & Spencer’s high-profile head of legal
    Robert Ivens over the summer, director of commercial contracts Verity Chase has been appointed as his replacement.