Met demands cut-price rates as scandal hots up

Police force risks cutting quality of advice in wake of phone-hacking

Legal advisers have been stunned by the Metropolitan Police requesting rock-bottom hourly rates in its latest panel review, at a time when it faces an increasing chance of court action over its handling of the News International phone-hacking scandal.

The Met’s legal department is seeking rates of a maximum of £130 per hour from firms reappointed to its panel, prompting some to question the quality of service that the new legal roster will provide.

Tendering began last month, but some firms are understood to have withdrawn from the process, ­saying the low rates would make the work unprofitable.

A source close to the review process said the Met’s belt-tightening could leave it exposed to a lower quality of legal service just as the phone-hacking scandal ramps up.

“The Met has its own in-house legal department, but do they really want high street law firms advising them on phone-hacking matters? That’s who they’ll end up with if they request these sort of rates,” he said. “They’ll have to go off-panel to a magic circle firm for this kind of advice.”

The Met’s legal team comprises around 45 transactional lawyers. It last reviewed its panel in 2008, splitting it into different bands of expertise and ­practice areas, including property, employment and litigation.

Firms currently on the panel include Bircham Dyson Bell, Blake Lapthorn, Burges Salmon, Eversheds, TLT and Weightmans.

As part of the review process, the Met has requested that all firms’ bids include: hourly rates of £60-£80 for paralegals, legal executives, trainees, and solicitors with up to two years’ post-qualification experience (PQE); £80-£110 for solicitors or ­barristers with a minimum of two years’ PQE; and £110-£130 for solicitors or barristers with a minimum of six years’ PQE, including three years in the relevant category of work.

“The Metropolitan Police would normally be seen as a real trophy client, but I’d be surprised if many of the major public sector firms could make this work ­profitable,” a source said. “As public sector clients drive down the price of their work, the model of delivery that law firms have to come up with becomes more challenging. You have to look at the ratio of partners to more junior solicitors.”