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The battle to win a spot on consumer goods giant Unilever’s first-time global panel of legal advisers has thrown the company’s law firm relationships into the spotlight.

The FTSE 100 company has invited a number of firms to tender for a place on the panel in a bid to cement its relationships with its major external counsel. The charge is being led by operations legal director Saswata Mukherjee, with internal pressure on cost management, as well as international expansion, thought to be the likely drivers behind the move.

Slaughter and May has traditionally been known as Unilever’s main corporate adviser in the UK with the company instructing the magic circle firm on three deals worth £1.4bn in the past four years, including its 2011 sale of Sanex and its 2010 sale of Findus Italy, according to data from Mergermarket.

However, the elite firm’s US best friend Cravath Swaine & Moore tops the rankings by both volume and value of deals it has advised Unilever on over the same timeframe, after acting for the company on four deals totalling £3.28bn.

Slaughters and Cravath teamed up in 2000 to advise Unilever on its largest instruction since 1998, the company’s £15.6bn acquisition of US food company Bestfoods.

Linklaters has also scooped several mandates for Unilever, advising on two deals worth a combined £2.82bn in the last four years, including the company’s $5.4bn (£3.2bn) agreement last year to increase its stake in Indian subsidiary Hindustan Unilever. Meanwhile Mayer Brown has picked up three mandates worth around £433m. In February, a team led by London partner Andrew Stewart advised the company on the sale of its Peperami salami sticks to beef jerky maker Jack Link’s.

The consumer giant also has a strong link to Baker & McKenzie after Unilever appointed the firm to outsource its intellectual property (IP) work to the firm’s low-cost offshore operation in Manila.


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