Law Soc IT penalties cause internal unrest

Law Society backbenchers are kicking up a storm over nearly £800,000 they say has been wasted on the society’s controversial new IT system, Project Engineer

The society has paid out £725,000 to the IT suppliers in penalty payments for delaying the implementation of the project. An additional £55,000 has been paid to accountants Pricewaterhouse-Coopers to report on the project.
Project Engineer, a customer relationship management system, was reported to be costing the society £18.1m. But a Law Society spokesperson confirmed that the figure has now risen to £28m.
At the last Law Society Council meeting on 17 May, concerned backbenchers met to discuss a chronology of events concerning Project Engineer. The chronology reveals that, although penalty payments had been made to the IT provider Aspective since January 2002, no mention of this had been made to council members until late April.
Janet Paraskeva, Law Society chief executive, wrote to council members on 25 April to tell them about a £650,000 penalty payment that had been made. But, backbenchers say, an additional £74,635 of penalty payments had been paid prior to that. The letter of 25 April was marked ‘confidential’, but details have since been forwarded to the local law societies of England and Wales. A society spokesperson confirmed that the figures given by the backbenchers were correct.
Backbenchers are angry that they were not informed of the earlier penalty payments, which they see as part of a culture of secrecy within the society. They claim that, on 21 March, Paraskeva made a report to council members concerning Project Engineer, and that nothing adverse was contained in it.
“Concerned backbenchers have been saying to the main board for over a year, ‘Watch project engineer, something is wrong’. Why did the chief executive not tell the council about the penalties until now?” one backbencher said.
One Law Society member alerted The Lawyer to the penalty payments row because he was concerned that council members would themselves keep it a secret.
However, the Law Society was open and frank about the problem. A spokesperson said: “There’s been some slippage with the timetable for pulling together the complex array of information needed to specify the software for the first part of the common information system.
“This is not uncommon in IT projects of this size and complexity. There are compensation costs – less than £1m – for this slippage.”