Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal: Litigation (PLJ) recently spoke to Marc Shelley, Global Director of Litigation & Risk Management at Anheuser-Busch InBev, about which changes brought by the global pandemic will become a more permanent part of corporate legal operations.
PLJ: How typical or unique is the scope of responsibilities for the company’s litigation attorneys?
Shelley: Like other consumer product companies, we generally handle commercial and intellectual property disputes, as well as consumer and employment claims.
PLJ: What is keeping your company’s litigation attorneys the busiest at the moment?
Shelley: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all areas of our work this past year. We have had to partner closely with our teams managing contracts and to think through the implications of the public health requirements for employees and restrictions on our products. We also worked even more closely with our corporate affairs colleagues to handle various COVID-related matters, from getting hand sanitizers into more than 30 countries in a matter of weeks to supporting vaccine access in many of our markets.
PLJ: Do you think any of the operational changes brought about by the pandemic will continue to be employed in the future?
Shelley: An important lesson that came out of the pandemic concerned how we work across functions and zones. We have developed more communities of practice to solve key strategic issues. For example, in addition to litigation, I have responsibility for the company’s intellectual property matters and I am especially proud of our strong community of IP experts. This has allowed us to work in close partnership with the marketing and R&D teams to support the growth and innovation of both our global and local brands.
Read the full interview in the October/November issue of Practical Law The Journal: Litigation
PLJ: What types of issues will cause you to turn to outside counsel?
Shelley: We turn to outside counsel for support when disputes escalate and to represent us in court. We will also seek out subject matter experts on emerging issues and trends, from environmental, social, and corporate governance matters to non-fungible tokens.
PLJ: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?
Shelley: A law firm should:
Provide clear, practical recommendations — Our former CEO, Carlos Brito, advised our legal team to “be lawyers with one hand,” meaning that lawyers should not use vague or equivocal language such as “on the one hand …, but on the other hand …” We have business partners who need to know what to do next. Firms that can convert legal expertise into practical advice are highly valued.
Own our problems — Our company has an ownership culture, and we expect the same from our external team members. This includes understanding that one of our biggest challenges can be controlling legal spend. There are many good firms that can win the case but doing so while taking ownership of the budget with us will get them hired again and again.
Get us the right help and seek a long-term partnership — I value lawyers who are always willing to let me bounce ideas or concerns off them without sending me a bill. I also appreciate when they refer me to another lawyer in their firm or even to another firm altogether if they know that will get me the best help.
PLJ: What is the best career advice you ever received?
Shelley: Our Chief Legal and Corporate Affairs Officer always reminds us that legal problems usually do not come with labels. To be a good lawyer and business partner, you need to think beyond your narrow area of the law and take a holistic view of your client’s needs.
PLJ: What advice would you give to prospective in-house litigation counsel?
Shelley: Know why you want to work in-house. The reason should not simply be to escape law firms, especially given that going in-house is not necessarily an easier path. If you are excited about the industry and want to get closer to the business realities of your client, then in-house is a great place to be.
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