Rio Tinto in radical shake-up of legal team

FTSE100 mining company Rio Tinto is overhauling its internal legal function, creating the new position of global general counsel in the process.

The company is organising its in-house lawyers into a central legal group. They will cease to be embedded in Rio Tinto’s different business units.

UK legal adviser Charles Lawton said: “The idea now is to have all lawyers in one global centralised legal function. There’ll be more visibility to, and interaction with, senior management. The company sometimes acquired businesses with embedded lawyers and we left them in place.”

Three regional general counsel will be appointed for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas, and lawyers will now be organised by both geographical position and practice area.

Rio Tinto will create global practice groupings in areas such as antitrust, joint ventures and M&A. The 50-strong legal team will remain the same size despite the organisational changes.

Lawton said the restructure will give the company a tighter rein on external legal spend. Rio Tinto’s business units will have to send all work to the central legal function before deciding whether to bring in external advisers.

A global general counsel could be either hired or promoted from within, but Lawton declined to comment on his position in the new structure.

The company has promoted Neville Tiffen to general counsel for the Americas, but has not yet made a decision on the other roles.