Southwark Council scrutinises panel firmsSouthwark Council is preparing to launch a review of its panel firms at the same time as setting up its first-ever barrister panel.

The authority is due to retender law firm contracts this year, but has the option of extending contracts until 2010.

Southwark employs around 80 lawyers, with the team led by director of legal and democratic services Deborah Collins, and spends several million pounds a year on external advice.

The local authority is currently examining the efficiency of all its departments, including legal.

Head of legal services for projects Stephanie Fleck said: “We have a lot of money being spent on external firms and we think we can manage it better.”

Southwark has six sub-panels, with two focusing on property and one each on contracts, employment, litigation and planning. DMH Stallard, Eversheds, Mills & Reeve, Nabarro and Wragge & Co all feature.

Panel appointments are made for three years. When the council revamped its panel in 2006 it invited 32 firms to tender, with a total of 13 firms ultimately winning places.

The authority also has relationships with a ­number of chambers, but to date has not compiled a formal list of counsel. Fleck is looking to create a formal roster this year.