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There was little doubt who Petra Energia would appoint as legal adviser when it took a $703.6m (£450m) credit line from Citibank to fund subsidiary Stein SP Participações this summer (17 July 2012). After all, Eduardo Pereira, the Brazilian oil and gas group’s chief legal officer, had just spent six months at Ashurst’s London energy, transport and infrastructure (ETI) practice.
It was part of scheme introduced by partner Peter Roberts, who joined from the role of general counsel at Centrica Energy in 2010. Roberts has initiated an ETI-wide programme under which in-house lawyers spend up to half a year in the department. He launched it a year ago, bringing in Pereira from Brazil and Abdul Hamid, a senior lawyer from Kuwaiti national oil company Kuspec, as well as a senior lawyer from a Japanese energy group and a junior lawyer from Uganda’s Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
Hamid’s stay was just three months, while the Ugandan also experienced three months and the Japanese lawyer a month and a half.
Meanwhile, Ashurst’s transport team has two lawyers from construction company Balfour Beatty on secondment for six months. The energy quartet have since been replaced by a Japanese lawyer, an Italian and a Spaniard, with another from a UK company’s legal department to move in soon.
Roberts admits “it all helps” in winning work from clients, but claims there is more to it than that. It gives in-house lawyers experience of how professional services firms work and, in the case of government lawyers, what makes private investors tick, while getting clients to communicate with each other.
“Getting them to talk to each other was entertaining - they struck up a friendship,” he said.
Indeed, Pereira often travels to Kuwait on business and is able to link up with Hamid.
The idea has caught on: global corporate head Stephen Lloyd has extended it to his group, with some secondees now spending a month and a half in ETI and then the same in corporate. But there are complications: participants have to be kept away from confidential information, although the odd Chinese wall is surely harmless if it means winning a $700m deal down the line.