Shell pulls in Debevoise for US court battle

Oil giant Shell has brought in Debevoise & Plimpton instead of its traditional litigation lawyers Cravath Swaine & Moore to fight off a multibillion-dollar claim over alleged overstatement of oil and gas reserves.

Both firms have a longstanding relationship with Shell, but it is understood that Cravath is usually Shell’s first choice for US litigation work.

The case has been filed in a New Jersey court on behalf of Shell investors. Chairman Sir Philip Watts is named as one of the defendants, as are finance director Judy Boynton and Watts’ predecessor Mark Moody-Stuart.

The case comes at a juncture for the claimants’ lawyers, class action specialists Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach. In the summer, the firm is due to split, with co-founder Melvyn Weiss running the East Coast operation, and his protégé William Lerach running the West Coast.

Although embroiled in the New Jersey claim and another in the Philippines over efforts to shut down its local oil depot, Shell’s London head of legal Richard Wiseman said that the company experienced too little litigation to develop in-house capability in this field.

“We do take a very close hand in the management and the strategy of the case,” said Wiseman.

Cravath and Debevoise declined to comment.