In 1992 I was working in the offices of an operator in Central London, doing the highly complex inter-field arrangements for an oil development on the UKCS.

The managing director was a dapper and genial Italian. He had an aversion to lawyers. The ante-room to his office was guarded by his strikingly attractive secretary Anna. She evidently had instructions not to admit any lawyer under any circumstances. Whenever I telephoned or went to his office, she told me he was out. He never replied to my memos, but passed them to his subordinates, so delegating some of the most critical commercial decisions in the development.

The dislike of lawyers is not unusual in the commercial world. The lawyers themselves must be held collectively responsible, for failing to demonstrate that they have anything positive to offer.

One morning I heard on the news that the EU had imposed sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro. I thought no more of it until my morning’s work was interrupted by a frantic telephone call from the operator’s lawyers in Europe.

The company had an oil tanker under charter that was scheduled to discharge a cargo of crude oil in Montenegro that afternoon. The EU sanctions came into force at 2pm that day and made the delivery of the cargo illegal. There were criminal penalties for breach of the sanctions.

The master of the tanker had refused their instructions to turn the vessel around, demanding express authorisation from the managing director. The lawyers had had been unable to get through to him, and asked for my help.

I went straight round to the MD’s office. Anna told me he was out. She did not know where he was and was not able to contact him.

Raising my voice slightly I said that was very unfortunate. I could promise to keep him out of prison if I could get hold of him by 2pm, but if not, I could make no such promise.

The MD was of course listening from his office, and five minutes later he appeared rather sheepishly at my door. We gave the necessary instructions by telex to the master of the tanker.

We had no problems after that. Sometimes he even asked for my advice.


See also:  The L-Word

Chris Thorpe

Chris Thorpe is a respected independent lawyer in the upstream oil and gas industry, and an established lecturer and author. Chris has a LLB in law from Magdalene College, Cambridge and trained as a barrister in London. He worked for eight years' as an in-house lawyer for BP and Marathon. Since 1991, Chris has run his own upstream legal practice, CPTL, which has acted for many upstream clients. He has extensive experience of international upstream transactions, principally in the North Sea, the FSU, Africa and the Middle East. Chris has spoken at many UK and International Conferences and Seminars, both public and in-house. His most popular current lecture is Fundamental of Upstream Petroleum Agreements, a two-day course with accompanying book.