In a sign of the growing influence of in-house lawyers, the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer has announced that its new corporate affairs director will report to its legal chief.

Chris Thorp will be responsible for corporate communications at Jaguar Land Rover, which has added the corporate affairs team to the office of the general counsel.

Global legal director Keith Benjamin (inset) told the Gazette the two teams share the same objectives and methodology: ‘Particularly when it comes to lawyers, it is all about the communication – on a variety of functions, with colleagues and engineers… As lawyers we do not use legal jargon. We need to listen to our clients.’

Corporate affairs is the latest function to come under the office of the general counsel. Others include business protection, legal, corporate audit, group compliance, patents and regulatory investigations. The office of the general counsel comprises 380 staff, including 30 lawyers across the globe. The global legal director reports to the chief executive.

Benjamin, who previously worked for US giant General Motors, says he had ‘free rein’ to set the functions up when he joined Jaguar Land Rover in 2009, after Ford sold the company to Tata.

‘We’re a pretty lean organisation and management structure,’ he said.

Asked how he demonstrates the office of the general counsel’s value to the business, Benjamin said metrics include no sanctions or adverse judgments. Another is no surprises. ‘The business expect no surprises in relation to any of the activities we are part of or that we manage… we are partly there to be the conscience of the company, ensuring it is acting compliantly,’ he said.

Benjamin said the short-term challenge will be resource – the amount of work versus the resource in terms of number of lawyers. The longer-term challenge will be in relation to new technology.