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In-house property lawyers 'pushed to add value'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 09/09/13

In-house lawyers working in the commercial property sector have plenty to deal with, not least the eerie synergy between their job title and chosen area of expertise. As budgets are slashed across the industry, they have been asking external advisers to work for less in a bid to improve efficiency levels.

Stephen Hedley at Cripps Harries Hall told the Law Gazette: "There is less work and too many lawyers going for the work. Procurement people are under pressure both in the public and private sector to get best value."

Clients are increasingly demanding more from their contracts, putting pressure on both external and internal lawyers to provide added value. That may include in-house legal training, secondments, flexible fee arrangements or more esoteric offerings.

According to a number of industry experts, they are increasingly having to go to unprecedented lengths to attract residential clients, especially in the more prestigious property areas.

Nicky Richmond, joint managing partner at Brecher and an experienced real estate lawyer, told the news provider that the old 'market rate' for property transactions no longer exists in what has become a complicated trading situation, especially in the capital.

Her firm recently reassessed the way it charges its clients in a bid to stay ahead of its counterparts and ensure that it is providing the best possible service in a crowded marketplace.

"You have to have a whole bag of tricks, there are [now] far more ways of quoting on a deal," she suggested.

Other cultural shifts include a practice of offering secondments, whereby a senior lawyer can work on-site with a property team in order to ensure they have around-the-clock access to legal advice on any issues that arise.

This also allows in-house lawyers to work more closely with their external counterparts, and general counsel to beef up their team without having to make a major (and prohibitively expensive) hire.