Virgin Group launches panel audit

Virgin Group has launched a full audit of its legal advisory roster with the aim of informally reviewing its panel arrangements.

Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith Freehills and Macfarlanes are among a group of eight firms that advise Virgin and its wide-ranging umbrella group, which includes Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Money and Virgin Active.

Virgin Atlantic general counsel Julian Homerstone said rather than conducting a full-scale retendering process the company is assessing its relationships with the firms to ensure that it is working efficiently.

Homerstone said: “We negotiate hard on fee rates and we use fixed fees, capped fees and tenders among the panel.

“Provision of secondees, free of charge training, free of charge updates – those are typical things we expect from the panel. And we will ask them to be creative and tell us what else they can offer us.”

Virgin Group panel appointments usually span 24 months for between six and eight firms. Bird & Bird, Bond Dickinson, Burges Salmon, Dentons and Harbottle & Lewis make up the current roster.

The panel predominantly works on UK legal matters, although it is sometimes tapped into for international work. It is not mandatory for individual subsidiaries to instruct panel firms as it is intended as a tool for Virgin Group companies rather than imposed upon them.

Homerstone continued: “We have our own CSR policy and we expect them to commit to that. And if they won’t sign ours then we expect them to match it and show what sort of CSR they have.”

Virgin has a long-standing relationship with Harbottle & Lewis, which seconds a trainee to the group on a rolling basis. Panel firms are also asked to provide maternity and long-term leave cover.

Homerstone said: “It is important for [the panel] to understand the variety of companies within the Virgin Group. They need to be able to provide legal solutions for Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Money, Virgin Active, Virgin Trains… we have a very dynamic group. The panel firms must meet our brand values.

“When I’m telling firms what we need from them, I say, ‘bottom line, as Virgin Group we’re typically performing at the cutting edge of business and everything we do falls into the media spotlight and is closely scrutinised. As a challenger brand we play with the big boys and we expect to win’.”