Learning to live with procurement

Catrin Griffiths

Let’s be realistic: those procurement people aren’t going away, and we need to learn to live with them. The discipline of procurement has engendered remarkable hostility among many lawyers; its first wave was all about process rather than strategic relationships. But peace is breaking out.

An increasing number of general counsel are reporting fruitful interactions with their procurement colleagues. As our in-depth study of Aviva’s panel review (The Lawyer, 23 September) revealed, Europe GC Monica Risam worked closely with senior procurement officer Stephanie Hogg. This week we’ve looked further at the relationship between the legal department and procurement (see page 20) and found more examples of strong working relationships at organisations such as AIG and Network Rail. (See also our interview on page 16 with BT GC Dan Fitz, who has worked closely with his procurement colleagues.) Network Rail GC Natalie Jobling reminds us that procurement teams “can be helpful in doing a lot of the spreadsheet work that lawyers don’t like”. That may be the understatement of the year. 

For those GCs who’ve gone through the procurement mill and come out the other side it can be a cleansing process. Procurement professionals often look to segment in-house legal spend from mechanised processes to bet-the-farm mandates, and to do this adequately they need market intelligence from their legal colleagues. In other words, having different perspectives on evaluating legal services can work fine, as long as both sides acknowledge
they need to find a framework that allows
them to express their judgments on the merits
of applicants. Those GCs who have made a success of the relationship admit procurement helps them to describe their requirements and clarify objectives, all of which can feed into internal processes as well as engaging external counsel.

 There is still, alas, plenty of lowest common denominator-style thinking among procurement professionals when it comes to legal spend.
But the best are acting not just as spreadsheet tyrants but as brand guardians. For public companies in particular, it matters who your outside suppliers are in terms of corporate social responsibility, diversity and environmental impact. Let’s face it, getting ferocious with external counsel doesn’t come naturally to most in-house lawyers. Best let procurement be the bad cop. As Network Rail’s Jobling wisely notes, only slightly tongue in cheek, “Procurement can do all the nasty tough stuff on rates without the relationship between lawyers being damaged”.