British Waterways puts law panel under scrutiny

Rolling review underway; casual advisers set for the chop; City firms safe

British Waterways has begun a review of its legal needs across the country as a prelude to consolidating its extensive panel of advisers.
The quasi-government body, responsible for Britain's 2,000-mile canal network, uses more than a dozen firms for work across its five regional divisions in England and Wales. The larger firms include DLA, Eversheds and Nabarro Nathanson.
A rolling review is now underway, and British Waterways expects to go out to the market in the spring.
Legal director Nigel Johnson said he aims to consolidate and improve British Waterways' adviser relationships through the process. “By spreading work less thinly, hopefully we'll become even more significant clients with them. We'll be looking to see economies of scale as a result of that and whether further deals can be done on costs,” he said.
“In the past, the panel has grown because work has followed people as they moved firms. It's grown over the last few years in a slightly disorganised manner.”

“In the past, the panel has grown because work has followed people. It's grown over the last few years in a slightly disorganised manner”
Nigel Johnson, British Waterways

Panel firms which get only occasional work are most at risk of being cut. Johnson refused to name the entire network of smaller firms that act in specific regions. “Sometimes relationships have moved on, people have moved and that's where consolidation will take place,” he said.
The focus of the review is on the body's more routine work and is unlikely to affect its major City advisers such as Ashurst Morris Crisp and Herbert Smith, which tend to be appointed on a project-by-project basis.
British Waterways' legal needs are extremely diverse. Johnson said: “In a typical region we've got large developments, but there are also intermediate-size regeneration projects in small towns and villages along routes and canals.
“From the property point of view, typically we need to have two lead firms, but we will also need specialist firms for litigation, personal injury litigation and criminal prosecution. We might typically go for two lead property firms for each region, while still retaining a couple of firms for specialist work.”
Johnson is running the review process in partnership with British Waterways' regional commercial managers, which do not have their own in-house legal teams. “Our key legal relationships are between our regional commercial managers and the firms we use in the regions,” he said. “I have to make sure that our regional managers are confident with the proposed primary contacts in the regions.”