The Office of Telecomm-unications (Oftel) is to set up a panel of preferred law firms.
Sebastian Farr, head of legal profession at Oftel, said: “We're just about to issue an invitation to law firms to tender.”
The panel is expected to consist of five firms, and a decision on which of them will comprise the final lineup will be made in the autumn.
“We know the sorts of firms with the sorts of practices who are likely to be interested,” said Farr. “It's always useful to have a panel because it gives us choice. There are lots of enormously good law firms whose experts we may choose to tap from time to time.”
Until recently Oftel instructed only the bar, but in the last year local loop unbundling issues have meant it has needed to instruct solicitors.
So far, only two firms have been used – Theodore Goddard for work involving telecoms-related law and property law and Fox Williams for employment law issues.
The partners instructed at Theodore Goddard are Edward Pitt and Robert McNally; at Fox Williams the partner instructed was Jane Mann.
Pitt, a partner in the competition and regulation group at Theodore Goddard, said: “We've done a considerable amount of work for Oftel in the last year on local loop unbundling and advising on the terms of a proposal by BT to do a sale-and-lease-back agreement. We think, provided they're pleased with our work, we'll be on the panel. I'sure we'd like to be on the panel.”
“There are lots of enormously good law firms whose expertise we may choose to tap from time to time”
Sabastian Farr, Oftel
Before joining Theodore Goddard, Pitt was senior legal adviser at Oftel, where he was particularly involved with licence enforcement and the control of anti-competitive practices by licensed telecoms operators.
Mann, head of employment at Fox Williams, would not comment on whether the firm would be likely to tender for a position on the panel.
The communications white paper proposes the creation of a new regul-atory body, an Office of Communications (Ofcom), encompassing the work of Oftel, the Independent Television Commission, the Radiocommunications Agency and the Radio Authority.
Farr thinks, when this happens, that it is likely that a new legal department will be set up within Ofcom to provide a full-service in-house team, eliminating the need for outside law firms.