ABN Amro shake-up sees panel come under review

ABN Amro is shaking up its legal panel as part of a huge global rationalisation and reorganisation drive.

The in-house legal department wants to reduce legal fees throughout its operations and has already begun conducting informal interviews with each of its firms.

The move coincides with the arrival of Laurie Adams, the highly-respected former general counsel at Citigroup, who joined the bank in September last year as head of legal for its wholesale banking unit.

However, his role has now changed to global head of wholesale and compliance, while the bank is currently looking for a candidate to take up the newly-created role of global head of corporate finance.

Commenting on the cutback on legal fees, Ava Simon Thomas, group head of legal for the entire bank, says: “We're rationalising our use of law firms. We should have done this two years ago, but Laurie and I are working on it now.”

She does not expect the drive to drastically affect the number of firms, but she says: “We're trying to get a better fee arrangement by using our buying power.”

Among others, the bank uses Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy and Linklaters & Alliance, while in its domestic market it also uses Nauta Dutilh and Linklaters alliance firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek.

Previously, the bank structured its business along product, client and geographical lines. However, Simon Thomas says business is now defined along just product and client lines. Adams is also centralising the legal function in London by bringing all the lawyers into one location.

The in-house team has five divisions: equities holdings, fixed income, equity derivatives, global derivatives and commercial banking.

Lawyers acting for the bank hope that Adams will smooth ABN's disparate approach when instructing outside counsel. One partner says: “The internal legal function is becoming more organised. Before, you'd have to go to the lawyer responsible for a particular area.” Now there will be one initial point of contact for external firms.

The bank is going through a period of considerable change. At the beginning of the year it purchased ING Barings' US investment bank business to bolster its wholesale strategy. It is also scaling back its consumer banking operations by cutting 6,000 jobs and reducing the branches from 830 outlets to 550 bank shops and 80 advisory offices. This will produce nearly euro400m (£251m) in annual savings from 2004.

However, Simon Thomas says that the review of its legal spend is not connected and it is merely coincidental to the overall review of the bank.