Shell appoints new legal director in wake of Peter Rees exit

Royal Dutch Shell has appointed Donny Ching as its new legal director with immediate effect.

Former-barrister Ching has been based in Rijswijk in the Netherlands as general counsel for Shell’s project and technology group, which provides technical support in upstream and downstream work and is also responsible for leading Shell’s safety, environment and contracting and procurement activities, since 2011. He will be relocating to The Hague as part of his new role.

Ching joined Shell in 1988 in Australia. He requalified as a lawyer the following year and worked in the company’s resources business before moving on to downstream and corporate work.

Since then he has held positions in Hong Kong, London, Qatar and Singapore, where he became head of legal in 2008 with responsibility for supporting to the downstream business in South-East Asia.

The appointment comes exactly a month after the shock departure of legal director Peter Rees QC, whose tenure ended with immediate effect on 10 January (10 January 2014). The abrupt move was understood to have surprised the legal team, which was informed on the same day in an email announcement from chief executive Ben Van Beurden.

Rees had agreed to assist with the transition of his responsibilities until 11 February 2014. He was replaced on an interim basis by human resources and corporate officer Hugh Mitchell (6 February 2014).

Rees joined Shell as global legal director in January 2011 (11 October 2010). During his tenure, he reorganised reporting lines globally and reclaimed control from external counsel by bringing litigation 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).”

After joining the FTSE100 company Rees restructured the legal function before launching another panel revamp with the help of associate general counsel Kim Phillips in January (11 January 2013).

The new-look panel, revealed in May, 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 Shell’s 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.