North-west authorities reveal successful bids in multi-million pound procurement

Local Government Lawyer - Monday 29th March 2010

The North West Legal Consortium today unveiled the results of its multi-million pound tender for legal services, the first time in local government that barristers and solicitors have both been chosen in the same procurement exercise.

A total of 31 law firms have been appointed across 11 panels dealing with the full range of local government work.

Four practices – Beachcroft, DLA Piper, Pannone and Weightmans – have been given partner status. This means that in return for enhanced relationships with the local authorities, they will provide added benefits such as tailored training, mutual secondments, media relations support and a cash contribution to IT development.

Only firms that applied for eight of the 11 panels were allowed to put themselves forward for partner status. Some 26 chambers have also been selected, spread across 14 panels. The sets were asked to provide structured pricing information, including fixed rates for different types of hearing and activity, as well as hourly rates.

Both barristers and solicitors were asked to state what discounts their tendered fee rates represented on rates offered to clients in the same sector. They have also entered into service level agreements, which – amongst other things – require them to submit fee notes and invoices that comply with the information provided during the tender.

The pricing information is all contained on a password-protected database that consortium lawyers can use to compare rates, conduct full case cost comparisons and to check fee notes and invoices. The information can also be used as a negotiating tool.

A new website – part funded by the North West efficiency partnership – is being built to act as the principal hub for the consortium’s activities. Accessible for every lawyer at the councils via an icon on their desktop, the site will include the database, information on the panels, a bulletin board, and a booking system for the training. Councils will be able to commission work through the site. Panel lawyers will also be able to accept instructions online and keep their details up-to-date.

The lead authority in the 25-council strong consortium was Sefton Council. Its legal director, Caroline Elwood, said the four councils involved in the original procurement exercise back in 2006 had learned a lot from the experience. She said: “This time round we have a larger consortium with more resources. We now have a part-time support officer, Beryl Heath, who was formerly Borough Solicitor at Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council. You need someone to harvest the soft benefits such as free training and use of library facilities that you have negotiated.

“There was also the question of capturing the efficiencies. We have individual legal directors placing the work but we needed someone who can step back and say what work has been placed and what efficiencies have been gained by having the preferential fee rates.”

The consortium’s management board and the four partner firms will meet regularly to develop further potential projects such as a conference. The consortium believes that efficiency savings of 25% can be achieved through the panels – in some cases the discounts on tendered fee rates reached 80%. There is, as normal, no guarantee of work for any of the selected firms or chambers.

Elwood declined to say what the combined value of its 25 members’ external legal spend is. However, it could be as much as an eight-figure sum, given that local authorities the size of Liverpool City Council, Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council, Wigan Council and Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council have signed up.

The list of consortium members also includes the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive and the Merseyside Police Authority. Elwood said the door was open to other authorities to join the consortium, subject to paying the appropriate administrative fee – it is cheaper for smaller authorities such as district councils – and meeting relevant procurement requirements.

The consortium received support with the procurement exercise from First Law, which developed the database and tools for checking invoices. The consultants, led by Anthony Armitage, also advised on the 2006 panel. Armitage highlighted the innovative use of real-life instruction scenarios as part of the tender exercise, with law firms required to supply ‘method statements' or breakdowns of the likely costs and allocation of fee-earners in relation to anonymised cases or projects. "We asked firms what type of lawyer – partner, solicitor, trainee – they would use at the various stages of the scenario and the hours those lawyers would need to spend on the particular task," he explained. "The authorities then made a value judgement as to which was the best method statement, not necessarily which was the lowest cost." These method statements can be used by consortium members in future, Armitage added, particularly when they have large instructions and are keen to see how the firms would approach such projects.


The NWLC's members are: Bolton MBC, Burnley Borough Council, Bury MBC, Carlisle City Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council, Chorley Borough Council, Halton MBC, Knowsley MBC, Liverpool City Council, Merseyside Police Authority, Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (operating as Merseytravel), Oldham MBC, Pendle Borough Council, Preston City Council, Sefton MBC, South Lakeland District Council, South Ribble Borough Council, St Helens Borough Council, Stockport MBC, Trafford MBC, Warrington Borough Council, West Lancashire District Council, Wigan Council, Wirral MBC and Wyre Borough Council