In 1998, Coca-Cola & Schweppes Beverages’ US parent company, Coca-Cola Enterprises, boasted more than £1bn in sales.
For a company which is the world’s largest drinks bottler such a rate of turnover is not surprising.
However, for Coca-Cola & Schweppes Beverages, which makes, bottles and sells the fizzy drink in the UK, the size of its parent is not reflected by the number of in-house lawyers the subsidiary has.
Paul Meadows, vice-president, legal director and company secretary at Coca Cola & Schweppes Beverages, says that his internal legal department consists of just three lawyers, one trainee and one paralegal.
“As legal departments go for a business of our size, we are quite leanly lawyered, which does mean that we have to be very focused on what the risks and priorities are for our business,” Meadows says.
He adds: “I think that the number of lawyers means that we are challenged to make sure that we can continue to provide the service our clients expect.”
Meadows says his team keeps a great deal of the company’s legal work in-house, including contractual work involving the company’s buyers and suppliers and competition work.
He says: “We are quite unusual as a legal department because we have a high focus on competition law issues both in relation to the UK and EU law.
“In 1993, the soft drinks industry was subject to a Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry, and since then we have been keen to ensure that we are fully compliant with the law and the various undertakings our business had to give the regulatory authorities.”
The in-house team has now put in place a competition law compliance programme which provides training and gives advice on compliance to the company’s employees.
The only work the legal team does not handle is employment issues.
“I think you do tend to get a split [in legal departments]. Either the in-house department does absolutely everything or, if things are split off, it is the human resources side that is split off most often, in my experience,” Meadows says.
He says: “We tend to outsource work in a small number of circumstances only.
“The first is where there is need for a particular expertise beyond what we can provide in-house, being somewhat commercial generalists. An example might be in competition law of a more detailed sort.
“Secondly, where work involved the conduct of litigation. What we will do is manage the litigation through outside lawyers.
“And the third area is where we simply, for one reason or another, can’t make the resources available in-house because we are very busy.”
Because the in-house team is relatively small, Meadows is keen to ensure that the company’s employees and clients are trained to identify legal risks for themselves.
“Our general approach is to give our internal clients the tools, the knowledge and resources they need so that, by and large, they can identify, manage and deal with legal risk, whether it is contractual relationships, disputes with suppliers or whatever else they are doing.”
He adds: “We are there to give our clients the training and resources they need. And in the cases where they can’t manage the risk because the situation is more complex and there is a degree of expertise required, then we are there to support them in a closer way.”
Vice-president, legal director and company secretary
Coca-Cola & Schweppes Beverages (subsidiary of Coca-Cola Enterprises)
|Organisation||Coca-Cola & Schweppes Beverages (subsidiary of Coca-Cola Enterprises)|
|Market capitalisation||$147.7bn, (£91.9bn)|
|Employees||4,500 in the UK, 66,000 worldwide|
|Legal function||Three lawyers|
|Head of legal||Paul Meadows, vice-president and company secretary|
|Reporting to||Gary Jones, regional general manager|
|Main location for lawyers||Uxbridge|
|Main law firm||Allen & Overy (general/corporate finance/competition), SJ Berwin (competition), Cameron McKenna (litigation), Willoughby & Partners (intellectual property)|