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ShellNews.net: Shell General Counsel Richard Wiseman: Practising what you preach

EXTRACT: Our interpretation was that far from being “unmoved” by our activities, as Mr Wiseman claimed in one of his amusing emails to us, in fact certain members of Shell management collectively suffer from diarrhoea in reaction to our initiatives, to put it tactfully.

THE ARTICLE 

By John Donovan

I was interested to read on the Internet a recent article in Legal Week magazine (published below) headlined “Practising what you preach”. The author is Richard Wiseman, the General Counsel of Shell International Petroleum Company Limited.

Mr Wiseman complains about how he lost his position on a Law Society committee because he was out-manoeuvred. He has been left trying to figure out what happened. Some may be surprised that he has the time to devote so much energy into non-Shell projects. Setting that question aside, he does appear to have a genuine grievance and I am pleased that he has followed our example by using the Internet to let the world know how he feels. Freedom of expression, which Shell purports to support, is to be cherished. It is a pity that it is not extended by Shell to courageous individuals such as Shell reserves whistleblower, Dr John Huong, who has legitimate grievances against Shell.

Nonetheless, I am grateful to Mr Wiseman for his candid revelations over the last decade.

Some examples: –

• His astonishing pronouncement about Shell’s Statement of General Business Principles – that legally speaking, they are worthless. These of course were not his precise words. He said that they were not drafted for use in the courts. Like a bet with a bookie, they are binding in honour only. This presents a credibility problem when Shell management is famed for its dishonesty and treachery over the years towards Shell employees, shareholders, licensees and suppliers.

• Mr Wiseman’s written confirmation that Shell used undercover “activities” during the course of litigation with the owners of this website. The “activities” included deception, a fake company and false credentials.

• His further confirmation that Shell carried out an internal investigation at Shell-Mex House into serious threats made against us and our witnesses during the course of the litigation. Shell failed to disclose during a related Police investigation that Shell directors were also directors and shareholders in a private intelligence firm which, Shell later admitted, engaged in precisely the activities which had been directed against us.

• His confirmation that Shell management has a counter measures plan which is activated whenever we write to any third party about Shell.

• Confirmation that he and his colleagues tape recorded an interview with a reporter from The Guardian newspaper held at Shell-Mex House when issues arising from the litigation were discussed, including burglaries carried out at the houses of our key witness, our solicitor and our own home. Documents relating to the litigation were examined and therefore compromised. This included a document that Shell lawyers had vowed to obtain even though their court application to obtain the document in question had been rejected. The Guardian reporter also recorded the entire interview and has retained the relevant tape in a safe place. One day someone is bound to write a book about these extraordinary events.

• We are also grateful to Mr Wiseman for sending us by mistake, a confidential Shell internal email about my father which he meant to send only to Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer and his executive director colleague, Malcolm Brinded. The content was fascinating. Our interpretation was that far from being “unmoved” by our activities, as Mr Wiseman claimed in one of his amusing emails to us, in fact certain members of Shell management collectively suffer from diarrhoea in reaction to our initiatives, to put it tactfully.

• His confirmation that he personally opposed an agreement which I negotiated with the Chairman and Chief Executive of Shell during a series of meetings at Shell-Mex House. He described the agreement as being “bananas”. Mr Wiseman subsequently lost his position as a Shell director. No wonder he is now feeling sorry for himself after also losing his position on a Law Society committee. He has been relegated to being Shell’s lead lawyer for mergers and acquisitions by Shell at a time when the reverse is more likely.  

I will spare further embarrassment to Mr Wiseman by not mentioning in detail his malicious indiscretion which resulted in the invalidation of the last peace treaty reached with us. That indiscretion turned out to be a monumental blunder almost on a par with Shell management neglecting to obtain the rights to the top level domain name for the unified company: ROYAL DUTCH SHELL PLC.  

Mr Wiseman may wish, on reflection, that he had always acted in accordance with the headline of his own article.

THE LEGAL WEEK ARTICLE

Headline: Richard Wiseman: Practising what you preach  

I was elected to the Council of the Law Society as one of the representatives of solicitors in commerce and industry in 2003. I lost my position on the council last year when they changed the rules for appointment from election to nomination, and the Law Society Commerce and Industry (C&I) Group committee appointed two of themselves to become council members to replace me and the other longstanding member, Paul Gilbert. I am trying to work out what has happened since.

When you become a council member, every solicitor you meet, from the magic circle to the high street, agrees that whoever the Law Society represents, it does not represent them.

This is just as true of solicitors in C&I as it is of the rest of the profession. In addition, there is the particularly egregious issue of practising certificates for which solicitors in industry pay full price and for which we receive even less than everyone else.

Council meetings were a dismal affair. You could have easily got the impression that the society was run by the main board, the paid officials and a small cabal of influential council members. This is hardly surprising when you remember that there are some 120 people on the council. In such an atmosphere, the representation of C&I members would clearly be an uphill struggle. Despite our numbers, we barely appeared on the Law Society radar screen.

There were several matters of particular interest to in-house lawyers being considered by the council at the time (such as the conflict rules), apart from the fundamental need for us to see ourselves, and to be seen by others, as part of the profession, with a common general interest with other solicitors.

I decided to concentrate on a narrow area of concern, where I thought some real progress might be achievable — the need or otherwise for the majority of solicitors in C&I to pay for practising certificates. The C&I Group had corresponded with the society in a desultory way for some time before I was elected, but surprisingly, no legal research had been done on behalf of members.

A couple of hours with Halsbury’s and Cordery on Solicitors armed me for the fight. As a result of an article I wrote, a number of in-house lawyers contacted me about letters they had received from the Law Society threatening them with disciplinary action if they failed to take out practising certificates which they regarded as legally unnecessary. With my help, they seem successfully to have resisted the bullying.

The arguments put up by the society were appallingly poor, despite reliance on the opinion of counsel, which was often quoted, but a copy of which I was never given. My exchanges with the Law Society were beginning to build up a small head of steam before I lost my position on the council.

So what is happening now? I see in the press release announcing the appointment of the new C&I Group chairman that he says: “…[he will continue] to exert whatever pressure he can on the Law Society to consider, among other things, the important issue of the cost of practising certificates for in-house solicitors.”

Admirable, however in an exchange of e-mails I had before I was asked to write this article, Dawood Pervez, one of our current council members, told me: “I assure you that Stanley [Williams — the other C&I representative] and I continue to push the issues relevant to in-house lawyers, but they are having to go into the mix with the issues relevant to the whole profession.”

What is it about our representatives that makes it so hard for them to represent us? Practising certificates are a real concern and it is hard to see that anyone is actually doing anything about it now. If I am wrong, no doubt our council members will eventually tell us what concrete action they are taking to address this issue.

Richard Wiseman is general counsel of M&A at Shell.

Author: Legal Week
Source: Legal Week
Start Date: 06/07/2006
End Date: 31/08/2006

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