Exclusive: Energy giant Shell names UK legal chief in top level reshuffle

Shell UK, the British arm of Royal Dutch Shell Group, has completed a top-level reshuffle of its global legal team, naming Michael Coates as its new head of legal in the UK.

Peter Rees QC
Peter Rees QC

Coates, a former Slaughter and May lawyer, succeeds incumbent Bob Henderson who is planning a move to the US to take up a new position. In the US, he will become associate general counsel, upstream Americas – integrated gas/new business. He will take up the position on 1 October.

The move comes as part of an ongoing reorganisation of the legal group, which is aimed improving in-house lawyers’ knowledge of the energy group. “The business is getting more integrated so having knowledge of both upstream and downstream is very valuable,” global legal director Peter Rees QC said.

As well as heading up the UK’s downstream legal team Coates will become associate general counsel of manufacturing and marketing for North West Europe. He will start his new role in October and will relocate to the UK from Shell’s headquarters in the Netherlands in due course.

Coates joined Shell from Slaughter and May in 2004, working as senior legal counsel until 2011 when he was made secretary to Shell’s executive committee and assistant to the chief executive officer.

Particular effort has been made to increase the movement of lawyers between different syndicates in the group since Rees joined Shell as global legal director in January 2011 from Debevoise & Plimpton’s London office (11 October 2010).

Rees said the energy company’s recent reorganisation had meant that 52 lawyers had moved from one syndicate to another in the past year, which is more than usual. He anticipated a further 30 such in-house moves annually going forward.

Shell energy

Under the leadership of Rees’ predecessor, Beat Hess, Shell slashed its panel to just five principal advisers, including Cravath Swaine & Moore, Simmons & ­Simmons and Slaughter and May (26 April 2010). 

After joining the FTSE100 company Rees reversed the stance and restructured the legal function before launching another panel revamp with the help of downstream general counsel Hans von der Linde 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 the last five years Shell has reduced external legal spend globally by 61 per cent from $330m to $128m.

Rees has placed no time-limit on the current panel. He said he will continue to assess Shell’s relationships with its external legal advisers, with a view to the panel shrinking by virtue of those it works with best.