Out of the predicted 100 law firms tendering for local authority work, most are bidding for more than one contract.
According to Graham Smith, partner at Lees Lloyd Whitley in Liverpool, his firm has currently tendered for 20 contracts. He says: “Lees, like many of the firms applying for similar contracts, is already heavily involved in public sector work. We have been working on civil service contracts since 1992 and are already well briefed on the nature of public sector work.”
Many firms agree that local authority work is a highly coveted area. Raymond Alexander, partner at Collyer Bristow, London says: “Local authority work is an important area that we want to be involved in and although the fees are competitive and cost of service is the most important factor in securing a contract – it is a regular supply of work with fees guaranteed.”
There is, however, a general feeling among competing firms that in-house legal teams have a distinct advantage over outsiders.
Smith predicts a tendency for those already in the job to carry on in any transfer of legal services. In view of this Barry Brice, partner at Pinsent Curtis, says his firm would be willing to enter into a partnership arrangement with the in-house teams of local authorities.
Those local authorities which have already advertised contracts admit that although initially 20 to 30 firms responded, only about one fifth of these then replied to the first tendering questionnaire. Con Mahoney, head of legal services at Hammersmith and Fulham, says the reasons for this were unpredictable. “Many of the City firms were probably put off by the variety of contractual requirements. I know that one City firm wrote to say that their work was too specialised and that they could not be competitive across the whole contract.”
Peter Large, head of legal services at Merton, says that because of the scope of the work available for tendering (including routine civil litigation, conveyancing and contracts, planning, criminal and social services) most bidders were medium-sized provincial firms from all over the UK.