A select group of legal firms in Birmingham could be in line for a significant windfall after being asked to compete for a place on Birmingham City Council’s £5 million panel of legal contractors.
And the firms that make it onto the list could be in for a further bonus, as the council is planning to share its roster with neighbouring local authorities.
The selection process comes at one of the most difficult periods for years for many city law firms with top names such as Wragge & Co, Cobbetts, and Eversheds all going through periods of rationalisation, adding new significance to the process this time around.
The council, which is the largest local authority in Europe, is launching a panel review to renew the list of external legal firms it has on its books.
Chief legal officer Mirza Ahmad will be writing to firms next month to invite them to apply for a place on the panels, which will be taking on contracts starting in September next year.
Mr Ahmad said the panels had proved a great success for Birmingham, adding: “We are therefore likely to include the ability for other local authorities to use the next panel as a mechanism to ensure better shared legal services across the sector.
“Other councils tend not to have panels of legal firms, there are a few up and down the country, but not many.”
He said more than one neighbouring authority was interested in using Birmingham’s panel of firms, but he could not confirm which ones.
This is the third time Birmingham City Council has renewed its legal panel. The process was last done four years ago.
It is expecting a huge selection of firms in the UK to compete for one of the coveted places on the list.
Mr Ahmad said: “This is an opportunity for local and national law firms to bid for a chance to do what that we have in terms of legal work.
“These aren’t actually contracts, these are different panels of firms doing work if we can’t do it in house.”
He said the list was open to applications from any law firm from the UK, but that larger firms with experience working with local authorities would naturally be preferred.
Although the majority of Birmingham City Council’s legal work is done by its in-house team, the council also currently has a roster of 21 firms it works with on a range of different panels.
Work carried out by external legal firms includes contracts dealing with PFI, employment, civil litigation and property development.
Firms currently on the council’s list are thought to include sizeable firms with a large Birmingham presence like DLA Piper, Eversheds and Wragge & Co, among others.
Chris Rawstron, a partner in the Birmingham Office of DLA Piper, confirmed the firm worked with the city council, but said he could not discuss the details of the work, or whether the firm would be reapplying for a place on the panel, for confidentiality reasons.
Mr Ahmad said the vast majority of legal work was done by the council’s own team, adding: “The council’s legal budget is £12 million a year, but that’s just the headline stuff.
“Obviously work done in-house costs us a lot less, so that’s not really represented in the amount of the budget that goes on external firms.”
And the council’s legal team is now starting to move into private sector work to bring money into the public coffers.
In April 2007, the legal team set a target of making an overall profit of £500,000 within three years. Lawyers working for the council have undertaken work for external clients, including businesses, developers, and other local authorities.