Unilever kicks off first-ever panel review

Unilever has kicked off its first formal panel review, which could formalise relationships with Slaughter and May, Mayer Brown and Baker & McKenzie among others.

Firms have been asked to pitch for work for the first time in the company’s inaugural review. The tender process is being organised by operations legal director Saswata Mukherjee.

Mukherjee has now sent out the tender documents and a June deadline is expected for the formal roster, which is thought to result in around five spots handed out.

The company is also considering following up the review with a second extended review into a host of sub panels, though the practice areas to be broken out remain unknown.

The consumer goods giant has never put in place a formal panel, instead relying on a list of trusted advisers which includes Slaughter and May for chunky financial deals and Mayer Brown for M&A work.

Slaughters has already advised the company this year on its first issue of Renminbi denominated notes, known as dim sum bonds, worth RMB 300m. Partner Matthew Tobin also led on its first issuance of a Green Sustainabiliity bond worth £250 million earlier this month. Senior partner Chris Saul is the client relationship partner at the firm.

Mayer Brown also has a good chance of staying in favour. The firm advised Unilever on the sale of Peparami sticks to US-based beef jerky maker Jack Link’s last month. The deal also included the sale of Bifi, Unilever’s meat snack brand sold in Germany, Switzerland and other parts of Europe and the manufacturing unit in Ansbach, Germany.

The firm fielded London corporate partner Andy Stewart and antitrust & competition partner Gillian Sproul as well as German partners including real estate partner Jürgen Streng.

Baker & McKenzie also has a strong relationship with Unilever, having having won a tender process to take on its IP portfolio. The firm uses a global support centre based in Manila to process map the body of work and drive down bills (16 October 2006). 

London managing partner and IP partner Paul Rawlinson handles the bulk of the work for the client.

Unilever overhauled its legal team in 2006, scrapping local general counsel in favour of regional and product line roles in 2006. Currently the UK legal chiefs report into European general counsel James Berkeley.

In 2010 UK and Ireland general counsel and former Linklaters partner Tonia Lovell was appointed chief legal officer and company secretary (8 February 2010). However last year the UK structure changed again when former UK general counsel Tonia Lovell’s role was split in two. Newcomer Ritva Sotamaa was handed the chief legal role and a seat on the leadership executive committee while Lovell became group legal secretary, a corporate officer role.

Unilever is the latest major company to launch a formal panel review after BP unveiled its major process earlier this month (20 March 2014).