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Sourcing legal services in 2020: updated and expanded legal panel review materials

Legal panel reviews are a well-established way for companies and large public sector bodies to formally appoint a group of law firms to their panel, establish common ways of working and benefit from more competitive rates and volume discounts.

However, while the purposes of a panel review may be well-understood, panel reviews are complex and unique projects that require thoughtful handling. To get the most out of them it pays to keep your finger on the pulse of the legal market, set a strategy, and always, always have a plan.

The legal services ecosystem: it’s a buyer’s (evolving) market

The legal market has seen a great deal of disruption and change in recent years and General Counsel (GCs) now find themselves with far more choice than they did even a few years ago.  Forward-thinking in-house leaders, eager to make the most of new opportunities, are looking further afield to alternative legal service providers (or law companies) and legal technology providers.  They can distribute their budget far more widely than ever before, choosing the right provider to perform the right service with the right people (and/or technology) in the right location. To get the most from what is on offer, it is important to survey the legal market regularly – and crucial when planning a panel review.

Many panel reviews are now likely to be on hold as legal teams tackle the more immediate issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, GCs may find that their experience of working through this crisis period gives them a different perspective on their team’s ways of working and how to make use of the new services and technological advancements on offer.

Setting strategy and planning the review

Getting the right result from your review requires strategic thinking. A GC needs to assess the work coming into the legal team and consider how best to deal with it. They should use their awareness of what the legal market offers and any lessons learned from working through the current crisis. For example, what worked well? Where were the points of failure in the current set-up? How could they be resolved?

They must also devise a plan for the panel review itself.

Any legal panel review needs to be planned meticulously and resourced adequately, as its success will often hinge on how successfully all relevant stakeholders have been engaged and brought into the process.  Their buy-in can be crucial.

If an organisation operates in the public sector, there is the additional and stringent burden of navigating and complying with the public procurement rules.

Updated and expanded legal panel review materials

I have been working with Practical Law to update and expand its materials on sourcing legal services, to ensure that they reflect best market practice in 2020. From my experience working in-house and, latterly, as a consultant in this area, I am sure that GCs would welcome the opportunity to benchmark their own approach.

The revised materials comprise:

To assist in-house teams further, the series also includes:

  • A downloadable flowchart, which gives a structured method for working through the process of allocating an in-house team’s workload to one of three resource types, to determine what should, and should not, be outsourced to a panel in the first place.
  • A downloadable and editable template that assists in mapping an in-house team’s existing workload, how it is currently managed, and how the legal team would like it to be handled following the panel review.

Many thanks to Claire and Capita and John and Network Rail for their time in giving such detailed responses to my probing questions. The case studies will no doubt be of interest as examples of best practice for others planning how they will navigate these waters.

The Practical Law In-house resource centre contains further materials relevant to managing your organisation’s relationships with its external legal resource, and managing a legal department generally. These can be found through its Business of law: Legal department management page.

Sarah Barrett-Vane is a legal operations and legal procurement consultant providing consultancy services and interim assignments for in-house legal departments and other clients through


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