PRIVATE health company Bupa is to sideline City firms in favour of cheaper services provided by regional practices and barristers. Head of legal Paul Newton says the hourly charge-out rates of top City firms are getting "ridiculous". "Something is going to have to happen. There is enormous pressure on us from management to reduce the amount we are charged. "This is causing us to consider, where appropriate, outsourcing work to firms outside London. If it costs us 15 per cent less to use a firm outside London, that reduces our costs considerably." To reduce escalating legal costs, the company is increasingly using barristers in a role that is traditionally the preserve of solicitors. "Barristers are increasingly prepared to provide a service of legal advice similar to solicitors. "We don't use them for transaction work, because they are not geared up to do that, but for general legal advice. We are getting the same kind of service at half the price." He adds: "In general, they are also more prepared than solicitors to stick their necks out when giving advice." Bupa spent u300,000 on general legal advice last year, excluding transaction work. Most of this went to Slaughter and May, Beachcroft Stanleys, Clyde & Co, Cameron Mc-Kenna, Denton Hall and Field Fisher Waterhouse.