The Post Office is on the cusp of stepping into the commercial world.
In July a white paper on The Postal Services Bill detailed plans to convert The Post Office from a public corporation to a government-owned public limited company.
The bill will also mean that the Post Office can borrow up to £75m a year to invest in acquisitions and joint ventures.
However, the Post Office is already one step ahead of the reform. In August it announced it was making a joint bid with Camelot for the National Lottery contract, and may buy a 20 per cent stake in the current operator if the offer is successful.
Two months later, The Post Office revealed it had extended its worldwide operations in the US and Germany by acquiring Irish transport company the Williams Group for £12.2m.
The Post Office is also undergoing an internal metamorphosis. Over the past year the legal department has reorganised the way it oursources work by reviewing its regional, Scottish and City firms.
The corporation reduced its regional firms from 40 to four, while the number of the more commercially-oriented City firms it uses dropped from 12 to just two.
Clare Wardle, assistant director in the intellectual property and technology division at The Post Office, is one member of a team which has been instrumental in reviewing its outsourced legal work.
Wardle says: “It really became effective this year.
“Obviously these relationships have been settling down and have been working very well so far.”
Wardle says The Post Office is also reviewing which firms are used for advice on trademark and patent issues.
At present, Clifford Chance is among the firms which advise the corporation.
But Wardle says: “We shall see when we get round to looking at the tenders whether Clifford Chance can be competitive against the prices of trademark agents that we use for some of our trademark work.”
Trademarks and patent issues are among the issues covered by the intellectual property and technology division.
The department also has a large litigation division which, among other things, covers employment and criminal issues.
But Wardle adds: “When it comes to heavyweight litigation of an extraordinary nature, it depends which firm we would use but Clifford Chance still do some work for us.
“Slaughters is acting on a matter related to litigation at the moment which is a bit off the wall, where someone is infringing our monopoly.”
The commercial division deals with regulation, postmaster contracts, work relating to becoming a plc and buying companies, such as German Parcel.
Finally there is the property area. Wardle says: “Local property work is sent out to regional firms but for outsourcing major transactions, these tend to go out after a beauty parade.”
Wardle says it is not easy to estimate how much the legal department keeps in-house.
She says: “We look at what is worth doing internally, what is core to the department and what is cost -efficient. If I was doing something that I could give to Slaughters but it is cheaper for me to do then I will keep it in-house.”
Assistant director in the intellectual property and technology department
The Post Office
|Organisation||The Post Office|
|Employees||200,000 in the UK, 40,000 worldwide|
|Legal function||50 lawyers, 100 support staff|
|Head of legal||Catherine Churchard|
|Reporting to||Malcolm Kitchener, director of the Post Office Services Group|
|Main location for lawyers||Croydon|
|Main law firms||Slaughter and May (London), CMS Cameron McKenna (London), Bond Pearce (South West), Eversheds (Midlands, North East) Hammond Suddards (North East), Weightmans (North West) McGrigor Donald (Scotland), Sidley & Austin, Lovell White Durrant, Linklaters & Alliance and Clifford Chance|