How to win firms and influence fees

We all know that bank panel reviews are all about the money. But as our cover story this week explores, there are very different ways of running tenders.

When we asked senior finance lawyers at the end of last year for their candid thoughts on the panel reviews of the past few years, the reactions were startlingly similar.

While Barclays managed to elicit much lawyer-lurve, Lloyds TSB and Santander, which ran their reviews very much through procurement and what many dismissively term as reverse auctions, rated low in private practice affections.

Does it matter, so long as the bank gets service at a reduced rate? There’s no way that Barclays was ever going to be wishy-washy on fees with Bob Diamond at the helm. But if you want to get your lawyers to give that elusive added value, a bit of emotional intelligence is a cute bit of external management.

Bank panels are instrumental in shaping the legal market. This is applicable both in terms of talent and pricing: to take just one example from last year, Simmons’ absorption of a real estate-focused finance team was largely a strategic Barclays play, while on a more macro level Deutsche Bank’s Click4Legal process is helping to do away with the billable hour.

Banks’ gigantic rosters mean they can throw out crumbs for swathes of firms while simultaneously conflicting out the majority of the UK top 100 from acting against them.
And in Barclays’ case, it looks like only Mishcon de Reya, Nabarro, Olswang, Taylor Wessing and Watson Farley – outside the insurance specialists – would have the litigation credibility to mount an action for a potential claimant. Indeed, the mega-panel model has actually created a new dynamic in the market – the conflict-free law firm, such as Stewarts Law and Enyo Law.

It won’t end there. Here’s a prediction: in five years any City firm on a bank panel will be doing a Belfast. Forget cultural resistance; what the banks want, the banks get. Especially if they ask nicely.

PS: Don’t forget to take a look at The Hot 100, with this issue; it’s as fascinating as ever.