British Energy to cull firms as market bites

British Energy is the latest international energy producer to overhaul its in-house and external legal setups as rising carbon credit prices force the industry to review costs.

The electricity giant will conduct a full-scale review of its legal panel before the end of the year in a bid to reduce drastically its external legal spend and retain more work in-house following the completion of its restructuring.

The review follows similar initiatives in the energy sector. These include Centrica, which adopted its own version of the DuPont Legal Model, International Power overhauled its internal and external legal functions following its de-merger from National Power, and BG Group is conducting an informal review of its legal panel.

The wave of reviews is understood to have been triggered by energy producers re-examining costs and relationships as a result of rising carbon credit prices, the developing nuclear market and the recent spate of financial restructures.

As a result, private practices have also been prompted to develop targeted energy expertise. Firms are being forced to distinguish their energy and natural resources practices from project finance groups.

Clifford Chance is expected to lose its stranglehold over British Energy as part of the review. General counsel and company secretary Robert Armour said the firm’s role would be downsized, although it was likely to continue advising the board of directors.

British Energy has long been one of the firm’s top-billing clients. Indeed, Clifford Chance was instrumental in the group’s complex restructuring, for which the firm billed British Energy more than £25.7m over the last three years.

But British Energy has budgeted less than £1m for day-to-day legal advice this year, excluding exceptional items. This compares with the £50m spent on legal advice during the restructuring.

The existing panel includes Clifford Chance, Hammonds, MacRoberts, McGrigors and Morgan Cole. British Energy will end its formal ties in North America with Cravath Swaine & Moore and Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett .

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