Shell names HR chief as interim head of legal

Royal Dutch Shell has handed interim responsibility of its legal function to its human resources and corporate officer Hugh Mitchell.

The role of legal director was left vacant on 10 January when Peter Rees QC left the oil giant without warning, just three years after joining the company (10 January 2014).

Mitchell is leading the 750-strong global legal team with support from corporate general counsel and company secretary Michiel Brandjes until a new legal director is appointed.

Although Rees’ tenure ended with immediate effect on 10 January, a statement from Shell said: “Peter has agreed to remain at Shell until 11 February 2014 in order to assist with the transition of his responsibilities”.

At time of writing Shell was unable to confirm its procedure for appointing a new legal director or what the likely timescale for that might be.

Rees joined Shell as global legal director in January 2011 (11 October 2010). He reorganised global reporting lines for the legal department in line with the upstream and downstream structure of the company as a whole and reclaimed control of litigation from external counsel by bringing more of it in-house.

In an interview with The Lawyer last year, he said: “If you look at most corporations these days, litigation and compliance is the biggest risk.” (4 November 2013).

However, with Shell issuing a profit warning earlier this month, some sources suggest that the oil company will be looking for a transactional lawyer with a pedigree in the energy and petrochemicals sector to take on its top legal job.

Rees launched a panel revamp with the help of associate general counsel Kim Phillips in January last year (11 January 2013).

In May he revealed a new-look panel that included Baker & McKenzie , CMS Cameron McKenna and, Rees’ previous employer, Debevoise & Plimpton, among more than 150 firms appointed to give greater cross-jurisdictional coverage and foster a sense of competition between panel firms (23 May 2013 ).

In September last year the UK team underwent a reshuffle when Michael Coates was appointed UK legal head (9 September 2013 ).

Rees’ predecessor Beat Hess had cut the company’s panel to just five principal advisers, including Cravath Swaine & Moore, Simmons & ­Simmons and Slaughter and May (26 April 2010 ).

In the last five years Shell has reduced external legal spend globally by 61 per cent from $330m to $128m.