When the client calls the shots

Legal Director - Monday 20th May 2002

This article examines the use of protocols and explains how they can be used as a tool for in-house counsel looking to extract value for money from their law firms.

"According to Anthony Armitage, Director of legal tendering and audit company First Law, too many clients continue to accept the law firm-drafted client engagement letter as the basis on which the relationship will be set. As he points out, such client engagement letters will rarely favour the client.

"The reason we use protocols is because firms are very poor at setting service standards themselves," he says. "Client engagement letters are not in fact anything like a client letter - they are more like a law firm letter."

When Armitage launched First Law two years ago, he decided that to work its online legal tendering offering depended on drafting 'a very robust' client-based protocol. This would provide the basis on which law firms would work for clients using the service to put work out to tender online.

"Firms do not enter these agreements unless they are forced to," Armitage points out, explaining that the greatest resistance has come from a small number of firms - notably those in the magic circle. By and large, however, firms have been prepared to work on this basis even though it would not be their preference.

Since its launch, First Law has subsequently drafted drafted protocols for clients such as the General Medical Council and a number of local government bodies.

First Law's Armitage says that a well-drafted protocol can prevent law firms using the 'tricks of the trade' such as excessive disbursements and travel costs and the inclusion of expenses that are properly part of the law firm's own costs."