In 1998, BP stamped its authority on the energy industry with its £67.7bn acquisition of US energy giant Amoco – believed at the time to be the largest ever takeover.
The deal put BP Amoco at the very top of the energy market, but the company’s next attempt to build on its already substantial market share – last April’s £15bn merger with US conglomerate Atlantic Richfield Company (Arco) – has hit a brick wall.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to block the deal for a number of reasons, including fears that the merger will limit competition in Alaska, where both companies are the top North Slope crude producers.
This glitch in its expansion plan is already hitting BP Amoco’s shares as investors run for cover from the shadow of a lengthy legal battle.
At the moment, Peter Bevan, group general counsel at BP Amoco, is understandably flitting between the UK and the US in an attempt to resolve the situation.
But while Bevan divides his time between London and the US, legal management of each of BP Amoco’s businesses is split between three assistant general counsel.
Bevan says: “The basic organisation is split into three main businesses – upstream, downstream and chemicals.
“In each of those main businesses I have an assistant counsel who looks after the services of each area. One covers Europe, the UK, Africa, the Middle East into India.
“Another is based in Singapore and covers the Far East and Australia and one deals with the western hemisphere and South America.”
Within the UK, the business is broken down further still and is based in a number of locations.
BP Amoco’s London-based lawyers are primarily concerned with corporate aspects and the chemicals side of the business.
In Aberdeen, the legal department covers the downstream business including referrals and marketing.
BP Amoco’s lawyers in Milton Keynes look after the company’s European fuels and lubricants joint venture with Mobil, which is now set to dissolve following the latter’s merger with Exxon.
The international downstream business is handled from Hemel Hempstead, while international upstream exploration is dealt with in Sudbury.
Bevan says: “We try to locate our lawyers as near to where the clients are as possible. The principle has been like that for many years.” The company’s preferred legal suppliers have also been the same for many years.
However, he adds: “We do use about 30 other firms, either City or local, on complex or local matters.”
The company’s panel is split into two categories – the A firms and the B firms.
“The A panel tends to be lawyers who are typically involved in corporate work, while those on the B panel tend to have expertise in a particular area, such as IP or a specialised form of financing or litigation,” says Bevan.
He says the company has been using Sullivan & Cromwell in the US “since Adam and Eve”, but is also likely to use different firms in different jurisdictions.
On a wider basis, the heads of legal in each of the company’s geographical areas are afforded a certain degree of autonomy when choosing which firms to use.
But Bevan adds: “We then keep a central record on who we use and with comment on what they are like.”
Head of legal and group general counsel
|Sector||Oil and Gas|
|FTSE 100 rating||2|
|Employees||20,000 in the UK, 70,000 worldwide|
|Legal function||50 in the UK, 270 worldwide|
|Head of legal||Peter Beven, group general counsel|
|Reporting to||Sir John Browne, chief executive officer|
|Main location for lawyers||London, Aberdeen, Milton Keynes, Hemel Hempstead, Sudbury|
|Main law firms||Linklaters & Alliance, Morgan Cole, Sullivan & Cromwell|