Unilever invites firms to tender for first ever legal panel

Consumer goods giant Unilever has kicked off a review of its legal advisers, inviting a number of firms to tender for a place on its inaugural legal panel.

The tender process, which is being organised by operations legal director Saswata Mukherjee, is part of a push by the UK company to formalise its relationships with its major external counsel.

While Slaughter and May has traditionally been the main corporate adviser to Unilever, Linklaters has picked up a number of mandates for the FTSE 100-listed corporate in recent years.

In 2013, Links advised the company on a $5.4bn (£4.5bn) deal to increase its stake in Hindustan Unilever, the publicly listed Indian subsidiary of the consumer goods giant.

The magic circle firm also acted for Unilever on its €390m (£330m) acquisition of an 82% stake in Russian beauty company Concern Kalina in 2011.

The deals followed the appointment in 2010 of former Linklaters partner Tonia Lovell to chief legal officer and company secretary of Unilever, after three years as the company’s UK and Ireland general counsel.

However, Slaughters has handled a large portion of major UK deals and finance work, including the headline role on a $1bn (£643m) double-tranche bond issue in 2012 and the €672m (£568m) sale of its Sanex personal care brand to Colgate-Palmolive.

In the US, Unilever has used Slaughters’ best friend firm Cravath Swaine & Moore for a number of corporate and tax matters, as well as New York law firm Herrick Feinstein.

Unilever also has strong ties to firms including Mayer Brown and Baker & McKenzie. In February, a Mayer Brown team led by London partner Andrew Stewart advised Unilever on the sale of its Peperami salami sticks to US-based beef jerky maker Jack Link’s.

Since 2007, Bakers struck a major deal with Unilever to outsource virtually all of its intellectual property (IP) work to the firm’s low-cost offshore operation in Manila, a deal brokered by London head and client relationship partner Paul Rawlinson.