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Quaff deeply from these pints about SABMiller’s new GC (practiced law, decentralized, and secondment)

Legal Week, Feb. 8, 2007 at 10, reports on the move by Lovells partner, John Davidson, to lead the SABMiller in-house legal function. Davidson was hired to replace company secretary and general counsel Andrew Tonkinson. A fact unremarked on in the article follows the statement that Davidson has practiced law for more than 20 years: “In contrast, Tonkinson, while a lawyer by training, did not practice law.” Whoa! The general counsel of a $15 billion global company had not and did not practice law? Had he gone in-house directly and that doesn’t count?

The article also states that the beverage giant has a “surprisingly small team for a company with a turnover of more than $15bn”. Six lawyers “sit under Davidson’s command in London.” Yet two paragraphs later the articles says that “worldwide, the company’s legal function comprises around 70 lawyers across the various arms of the business including local general counsel in Colombia and the US.” Apparently, many of the businesses have their own legal teams and those decentralized lawyers, it appears from the article, do not report to Davidson. It’s not exactly a lean legal team to have five lawyers per billion dollars of revenue.

It was also noteworthy that the company’s first in-house lawyer, which apparently refers only to the small headquarters team in London, was a secondment from Lovells in 2002. For five years the team has maintained a “rotating six-month secondment scheme” with the firm since then.