Legal Departments Of The Year: Henkel Digs Deeper In Doing Research On Outside Firms
When Paul R. Berry joined Henkel Corporation as its chief legal officer in 2006, the international manufacturing company that makes and sells household products like Dial Soap and Purex detergent was using dozens of law firms as outside counsel.
With involvement in hundreds of pending lawsuits across the country, keeping track of the legal billing meant management headaches for Berry. In less than a year at the helm of the legal department for the company with $3.9 billion in U.S. sales, Berry decided it was time to consolidate the outside legal work to include just a couple of firms.
The consolidation, Berry figured, would lead to better results in the courtroom and save the company money in the long run. So that's just what he did. Berry also instituted a computerized program for keeping track of the outside counsel legal spending and productivity.
For the innovations to streamline the legal work under Berry's watch, Henkel takes the Connecticut Law Tribune's Legal Departments of the Year Award for Management of Outside Counsel.
Henkel's parent company Henkel AG&Co., is based in Germany. The U.S. subsidiary is headquartered in Rocky Hill, where 11 of the company's 125 lawyers are currently employed.
Nationwide, the Henkel legal department, backed by its outside firms, handled a fairly typical mix of litigation cases last year. Because the company produces chemical products, its legal department has been called upon to defend lawsuits ranging from product liability to toxic torts. In each of those litigation matters, outside counsel is used.
Numerous asbestos product liability lawsuits remain pending throughout the country. There are currently six lawsuits pending against Henkel in Connecticut Superior Court, all related to injuries or deaths attributed to alleged asbestos exposure from products manufactured by predecessor companies.
In one of those cases, Henkel is being represented by the Boston law firm of Centrulo LLP, which defends many asbestos-related claims in New England. Several lawsuits have also recently been pursued against Henkel over its antibacterial soap products. One of those suits, filed in California, claims a Dial soap product was misleading in its advertising.
What's somewhat unusual, Berry said, is his department has started using a request-for-proposal (RFP) process for all new outside counsel hires, rather than traditional method of using word-of-mouth referrals to find new firms. That process gives the company the most information in hand, to help it make the most informed decision about which firm to hire.
The RFP process is used for Henkel's legal outsourcing overseas as well. Amy Span Wergeles, who runs the Henkel's in-house trademark practice from Rocky Hill, said the company employ two outside firms in each of 72 countries where the company does business . The company used to use as many as 10 different firms in each country.