By David Ruiz
This article originally appeared in Corporate Counsel. Reprinted with permission.
Brian Chevlin, general counsel of Pernod Ricard, always wanted to be in the courtroom, and he got his chance early on, working on bankruptcy cases as an associate at Shearman & Sterling in New York after graduating from law school.
During his six years at Shearman, Chevlin added some corporate and M&A experience to his skill set and then moved to New York-based law firm Herrick Feinstein. It was there that firm client Unilever offered Chevlin his first chance to move in-house in 1998. It lasted much longer than expected.
“They said: ‘Oh, we have someone going on maternity leave, can you come in and help us for three months?’” Chevlin said about going in-house as assistant general counsel for litigation. “Fourteen years later, I was still there.”
Chevlin’s in-house turn brought him both intellectual challenges and a closer relationship to the company—which he said he enjoys more than typical, “isolated” law firm work that moves from matter to matter. And during the 14 years with the Dutch-British consumer goods giant, Chevlin took charge of legal affairs for ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, which Unilever bought in 2000. The company also owns Breyers and Good Humor.
“I became GC of the ice cream business,” Chevlin said, a “billion dollar-plus business in the United States.”
In 2012, Chevlin got a call from a legal recruiter about the general counsel position at Pernod Ricard, a French alcohol producer that owns the brands Absolut, Chivas Regal, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Malibu and more. Chevlin thought it was a good opportunity to move up in the legal world, having been a deputy GC with Unilever.
At Pernod Ricard, Chevlin commands a team of around 20 people, including nine attorneys in the United States and two in Canada. He is also in charge of the government and public affairs group in Washington, D.C., which lobbies on certain issues such as tax reform, alcohol regulations and trade association work. It’s a lot to manage with a national regulatory environment that can resemble a patchwork quilt.
“It’s different for each state,” Chevlin said. “It’s like 50 little countries that we have to understand.”
Beyond scoping out potential legislation that can directly influence Pernod Ricard’s product sales, Chevlin said the company looks outwards, and has lately been monitoring the potential impacts of marijuana legalization.
In the United States, seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and in 2016, four more states voted to pass similar laws. Canada, too, is expected to legalize recreational marijuana in 2018.
“It’s something we’re watching very closely,” Chevlin said, “to see if drinking patterns are being impacted by recreational marijuana users, and what impact [that will] have on our industry.”
Currently, Chevlin’s legal department is participating in a data-driven experiment with GC led organization AdvanceLaw to help measure what behaviors create better relationships between in-house and outside counsel. Chevlin has worked with AdvanceLaw since his days at Unilever and said he has long admired the organization’s work. He hopes the current experiment will “validate” some of what he has “intuitively picked up over the years” about how law firms and their clients can best work together.
“I believe that the billable hour idea is just not a good model, and in 90 percent of cases, law firms should be able to quote you a price and stick to that price,” Chevlin said. He said he understands some matters differ, but, for the most part, he’d like to see legal work conducted more like a “home improvement project, where you hold someone accountable for a price.”
Chevlin said his legal department is using alternative fee arrangements and capped-fee agreements on certain commodity work and also exploring retainer agreements.
“If I have 50 states, and I have a three-minute question on this state and a 30-minute question on that state, why not have it all part of a monthly, fixed fee amount?” Chevlin asked. He said the department has been successful in moving about half of its legal matters to alternative and capped fee arrangements.
When he isn’t working, Chevlin said he tries to attend “as many sporting events as I can.” He said he’s a huge college football and NFL fan, and he loves to ski in the winter and spend time with his family.