DLA's Sheffield office is threatening to oust regional rival Eversheds from its role as licensing adviser to Britannia Hotels.
Partners from DLA met Britannia's head of legal Sue Ashton at The Lawyer Monte Carlo 2001 in February and were asked to submit a tender for the work.
Ashton has now given the firm its first instruction, and says she decided to give it a try because she had found Eversheds to be relatively expensive.
Ashton currently uses Eversheds' Birmingham office for the work. She says: "I was chatting to [DLA] when I went to Monte Carlo, and then somebody came in to see me in the office and I thought I'd give them a go. I was just going to give them a try to see how they were on a cost basis, but then the quote they offered me was very competitive, so I thought I'd try them.
"We've currently got someone else doing the Midlands work who I think is expensive; or more to the point, my managing director does."
Ashton says that Eversheds is very efficient, and DLA's instruction is just to see how it does. "Eversheds' [lawyers] are very competent. They always get everything right, so I'm waiting to see if DLA is any good. It's no good being cheaper if you're not as good," she says.
Being the owner of 19 hotels, Britannia has a lot of licensing issues across the country. Other law firms Ashton uses include Addleshaw Booth & Co and Pannone & Partners.
Ashton says DLA may end up getting more of the work. "We've got quite a lot of hotels in the Midlands - if they turn out to be more competitive, they may get more work," she says. "One of the things I'm doing this year is looking at budgets and how much I spend. Eversheds are very good and I really like them, but every time I get one of their bills the managing director says, 'Isn't this very expensive'; and they are compared with our other lawyers."
DLA's licensing practice is spread across the Leeds and Sheffield offices and is run by partner Martin Cowell in Sheffield. His clients include UCI Cinemas and Punch Taverns, and he has worked on the licensing for the Royal Armouries in Leeds, the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield and Sheffield United FC.
An Eversheds spokeswoman said the firm had nothing to say on the matter.