First Law Accreditation Scheme targets Olympics to revolutionise legal tenders

Press Release - Friday 15th July 2005

The City of Stoke-on-Trent has just completed a legal tender exercise using First Law’s database of information on law firms, while at the same time adopting a standard public tender process. Stoke-on-Trent issued a tender notice in the Law Society Gazette, and followed through with the usual expression of interest, PQQ, formal tender and interview stages.

24 law firms responded to the tender notice by providing work examples and nominating referees. First Law took up references – one for each practice area applied for – and scored each firm to produce rankings. The 17 highest scoring firms from this stage went through to the formal tender round. The tender responses provided detailed pricing and service information which was also scored.

Following final stage interviews, Aaron & Partners, Addleshaw Goddard, Eversheds, Freeth Cartwright, Grindeys, Knight & Sons and Trowers & Hamlins have been appointed to Stoke-on-Trent’s new panel.

All seven firms have agreed to sign up to First Law’s Service Level Agreement. This document is the culmination of First Law’s five years’ experience running legal tenders and has now been accepted by more than 30 law firms. It incorporates many important client safeguards such as the contractual enforcement of conduct rules relating to the giving of estimates and a cost-free dispute resolution option.

First Law has spent the last two years building an exact online version of the tender process it undertook for Stoke-on-Trent – called the First Law Accreditation Scheme. Any law firm can now submit exactly the same detailed information about its practice as First Law obtained for Stoke-on-Trent via www.firstlaw.co.uk. The Scheme sets industry standard procedures and documentation which means it can be used by clients from all sectors and for instructions in any practice area.

The beauty of the new Scheme is that it unifies in a single online database the best aspects of every tender First Law has ever conducted. Law firms only need to collate and submit information about all their practice areas just once and their data is stored permanently. Law firms can edit their own information at any time so entries are always up-to-date. Clients can make immediate like-for-like comparisons between competing firms in any practice area via an instant web search. The implications for the conduct of future legal tender exercises, in terms of access to comparative information, the liberalisation of market forces and savings in resources, are huge.

Information about firms is displayed on the web site in the eight categories below and applied to each firm's practice areas, using the Legal 500 classification.

1. Overall accreditation score
2. Work examples
3. Client references
4. Pricing information
5. Service information
6. Client feedback
7. Contact details
8. Adoption of First Law Service Level Agreement

Search results are automatically ranked according to First Law's accreditation score, which assesses quality of references, pricing levels and service information. Specific work examples, client feedback and an indication of a firm’s willingness to sign up to First Law’s SLA are left un-graded to allow clients to subjectively assess these aspects in the context of their specific requirements and in conjunction with the other accreditation criteria.

First Law is working closely with Alexander Forbes Professions Consulting, its joint venture partner, to ensure that only genuine clients can access law firm data online and to prevent the disclosure of confidential and commercially sensitive information to competitor law firms.

The significance of the launch of the First Law Accreditation Scheme should not be underestimated. Any client undertaking a tender exercise or already managing a panel of law firms, can now invite law firms to register with the Scheme for free, and submit pricing, service and reference information to our secure online database to levels of detail, relevance and quality that have only been possible in the past through traditional paper exercises. Clients can then search the database to supplement and enhance information they already hold on firms or simply conduct the entire tender process online. So without any deterioration in the value of information supplied, the Scheme will create enormous savings in time and resources, it will eliminate market distortions and it will put clients in a uniquely powerful bargaining position.

Participation in the First Law Accreditation Scheme will allow a law firm to promote its practice to clients and to compete for new work on merit without incurring any speculative marketing costs. Client feedback submitted online will help a firm perform better in future pitches for new work.

With London now confirmed as the host City for the 2012 Olympics, the potential of the Scheme to streamline the selection of legal advisers associated with the Games, to improve the transparency, openness and accountability of the organisers’ decision making processes in appointing lawyers and to create robust audit trails that demonstrate the achievement of best value, is obvious and compelling.

More information about the Scheme can be obtained from the First Law web site www.firstlaw.co.uk.

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Notes to editors

1. First Law is an incorporated solicitors’ practice established in 1999 that acts as an independent adviser on legal tender exercises. It has managed over 100 formal legal tenders for a wide variety of large organisations in the public and private sectors, involving over 300 interviews with law firms and the tendering of around £10 million of legal work annually. First Law’s core objective is to evaluate lawyers in terms of expertise, service level and value for money.

A list of law firms that have participated in First Law tenders can be viewed at:

http://www.firstlaw.co.uk/tenders_firms.php

2. Alexander Forbes Professions Consulting is a division of Alexander Forbes Risk Services UK Ltd, and one of the World’s largest risk and risk finance companies.

3. The Accreditation Scheme is a joint venture between First Law and Alexander Forbes Professions Consulting which has been designed to standardise the way that clients and, in particular, in-house lawyers manage outsourced legal work. In-house lawyers will use the Scheme’s database to identify those practices that they wish to invite to tender and instruct for new work.

4. First Law's Service Level Agreement is a sophisticated contract for use between a client and a law firm it instructs. It is of universal application and uses plain English with no superfluous ‘boiler plate’ wording. It sets out all the terms of the client-lawyer relationship and can operate alongside a firm’s standard terms of business.

The SLA is a powerful tool to control costs and service standards. It requires law firms to provide fee information in completed billing guides before submitting formal invoices. The requirement to provide best possible advance costs information, as contained in Professional Conduct Rules, is given contractual force through this procedure. Every billing guide must specify the estimate information given at the outset of the instruction and whether the matter is on cost target. A reasoned appraisal is required for any cost overrun or saving achieved. The guide requires billing narrative to be output based, avoiding reference to activities which are not directly linked to the achievement of a result and identifying the time incurred by individual fee earners for each activity listed, so that the client can calculate what proportion of time-costing relates to specific work. Law firms cannot issue valid invoices without the client’s approval of the completed billing guide. Clients can reasonably withhold their approval if the guide is not fully or correctly completed so by using the SLA it is virtually impossible for there ever to be a dispute over fees.

The other main client protections, which are rarely, if ever, volunteered by law firms, are:

A rule book on estimates, fixed and capped fees and billing generally
Strict sanctions against invoicing if the rules are not followed
Client control over the use of counsel
Restriction on exercising liens over documents if fees are in dispute
Binding obligations to adhere to timetables
Rights to enforce the agreement by paying third parties
Clear and detailed procedures for payment of fees on different kinds of termination
Optional cost-free dispute resolution by First Law acting as expert

5. A live demonstration of the Scheme’s search facility is available on request.