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Legal department leaders could benefit from outside help when it comes to procurement

Posted by: Laurence Simons 24/09/12

Think back to when you were young. Remember when, tucked in at night wearing your favourite Lil' Litigator suit, your hair carefully slicked back for sleeping, you used to dream little dreams of being an in-house lawyer? The fast cars. The standing up dramatically in court. The parking spaces for those fast cars. The salary to afford those fast cars. Fast cars. Remember that?

And now look: you are filling out a procurement form because the office needs new energy-saving lightbulbs.

Well, not quite. But traditionally, the fine details of managing a legal spend has fallen to in-house professionals who probably have better things to be doing than legal procurement. However, as The Lawyer reports, there is a growing post-recession trend for spending power to be taken out of the hands of the in-house counsel and put into the clammy paws of the company's procurement manager. And though it might result in a lower net spend, it's also getting some backs up.

Anne-Marie Amatt is just one member of the up-and-coming generation of hotshot procurement specialists, with the buying expert being charged with managing energy giant E.On's legal spend three years ago. In the time since, Amatt has shaved 20 per cent off the department's budget, but run up against a little internal friction as a result.

"It hasn't all been plain sailing for Amatt," says The Lawyer's Katy Dowell, who profiled the specialist. "When she first started out on her journey she was faced with a sceptical legal department wary of a non-lawyer claiming to understand how legal services work. Hers is not a lone tale. All too often lawyers in in-house legal jobs and in private practice reserve a gentle disdain for their non-lawyer counterparts."

But it could be counter-productive - while handing off all the procurement nitty-gritty to someone who specialises in services and suppliers might seem like losing control of your budget, it could free up more money to spend. Amatt held blind e-auctions for lucrative panel places and found that legal bidders brought down their quoted hourly rates when they saw the bids of rival firms. The result? If the tender was juicy enough, and handled just right, the rate of top billing firms came down. So if you stop sulking and let a procurement specialist manage your legal budget, the same quality service can be obtained for less.

Obviously, this only goes so far. Many traditional law firms value relationships over blind bidding, and a senior Magic Circle partner warned The Lawyer that clients who demanded too much for too little (as procurement specialists might be inclined to do) could find their company frozen out of the legal market. In that case, it pays to get a bit sulky. But if someone comes up and offers to manage your departmental budget for you, it might well be worth considering it.