City firms on tenterhooks as BT creates official panel

BT is planning to formalise its legal panel. The decision has come out of an internal review of the BT legal department, which has been reorganised under the company's new head of legal Anne Fletcher

The telecoms giant is well known for not guaranteeing repeat instructions. Over the last two years it has given multiple pieces of work to magic circle firms Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters, the latter advising on BT's £5.9bn rights issue last summer, the biggest ever in the UK.
BT has also enjoyed flirtations with national firms Wragge & Co and – very recently – Pinsent Curtis Biddle. Niche IT and telecoms specialist Bird & Bird has also worked for BT in the past. But there has never been a formal structure to the referrals.
“There's no formal panel. People are instructed but no one has any expectations of a repeat instruction,” a source close to BT's legal department told The Lawyer.
According to a BT legal department spokesperson, this is all set to change over the next year, although the process is currently at an early stage. “We will have a formal panel,” said the spokesperson. “At the moment, we're looking at an internal review to make our services more efficient. As part of this, we need to sort out our process of instructing outside firms.”
BT's legal department was recently restructured to mirror its four business lines, BT Wholesale, BT Ignite, BT Retail and BT Openworld, the spokesperson revealed. BT has also created a central legal department, which deals with general commercial, intellectual property and merger and acquisition issues, the spokesperson said.
According to the spokes-person, BT is not looking to set up a separate legal panel for each line of business, but the rejig has prompted the need to formalise the panel.
“We have over 100 lawyers here who have personal relationships with external law firms. But now that all the lawyers aren't sitting together anymore, it's harder for them to know what each other's doing. This is why we're looking at who we instruct,” the spokesperson explained.
The spokesperson went on to stress that BT has no immediate plans to invite firms to bid for panel places.
“At the moment, we're looking at our process and doing a review. The next stage will be to go out to the law firms,” the spokesperson said.