Baker & McKenzie, Mayer Brown, Olswang and Slaughters win Unilever panel places

Baker & McKenzie, Mayer Brown, Olswang and Slaughter and May have all won spots on Unilever’s inaugural panel.

The hard-fought tender process ended last month with 16 out of 25 competing firms winning roles on four separate panels. The review was led by operations legal director Saswata Mukherjee and will be repeated in 2016 (27 March 2014).

The FTSE 100 company has abandoned its list of trusted advisers in favour of the formal roster after launching its first review in March. It has divided the work between a corporate, IP, general contract commercial and construction and engineering panel with four firms on each roster.

Mukherjee said the company would continue to work on negotiated rates with all of its advisers. The company did not have a panel size in mind when it launched the review earlier this year and did not accept 10 firms which pitched for places.

He said the company was looking for expertise, knowledge of the industry and geographic reach.

Baker & McKenzie, Mayer BrownOlswang and Slaughters all have existing relationships with the company.

Baker & McKenzie’s IP outsourcing relationship was the only one not put under review (16 October 2006). Its deal to take on the company’s entire trademark portfolio, brokered in a 2006 tender process, was not included in the process and Unilever will continue to send all of its IP work to the firm’s low-cost support centre in Manila.

However the company has set up a separate IP panel for non-administrative IP work.

Slaughters has traditionally taken on finance remits for Unilever and senior partner Chris Saul is understood to be the relationship partner for the company. Earlier this year the firm advised Unilever on its first issue of Renminbi denominated notes, known as dim sum bonds, worth RMB 300m.

Partner Matthew Tobin also led on Unilever’s first issuance of a Green Sustainabiliity bond worth £250 million in March.

Unilever turns to Mayer Brown for meaty M&A work, with Andy Stewart understood to be the client relationship partner. Stewart led on the sale of Peperami to US-based based beef-jerky maker Jack Links.

Technology and outsourcing partner Dominic Dryden is said to be Olswang’s key client partner. He acted on the company’s large-scale IT outsourcing to Unisys in 2009 and other clients include BP, BAE Systems and Nationwide.

The review process was led by Mukherjee but former Linklaters lawyer and group legal secretary Tonia Lovell and chief legal officer Ritva Sotomaa were also heavily involved, along with several procurement officers.

Linklaters is also thought to have won a spot on the roster, having taken lead roles on M&A deals for the company in the past. The firm has stronger links to the company since Lovell joined in 1997 (8 February 2010).

Unilever overhauled its legal team in 2006, scrapping local general counsel in favour of regional and product line roles in 2006. Currently the UK legal chiefs report into European general counsel James Berkeley.

In 2010 UK and Ireland general counsel Lovell was appointed chief legal officer and company secretary (8 February 2010). However last year the UK structure changed again when her role was split in two. Newcomer Ritva Sotamaa was handed the chief legal role and a seat on the leadership executive committee while Lovell became group legal secretary.