BT calls on panel firms to work with new legal services business

BT Law launched following successful application for ABS licence

BT is planning to use the launch of its new legal services venture BT Law to start partnering up with its roster of external law firm advisers on client work. 

The telecoms giant, which this week was awarded its alternative business structure (ABS) licence, allowing it to move into the legal services market, plans to start cross-selling work with panel firms – either pitching BT Law’s services direct to firms’ clients or discussing with firms whether some of their work could be run through the new legal arm. 

As part of the plans, the ongoing tender process for BT’s new global panel, set to be unveiled later this month, has seen firms asked whether they would be prepared to bid for client work alongside BT Law. 

BT Law director Miles Jobling, who also heads BT Group’s litigation and employment teams, said: “As part of our discussions with the network [of law firms] in the UK, we are asking if they are prepared to help us, and the answer across the board has been a resounding ‘yes’.”

Jobling said BT Law’s corporate customers want access to a full legal service in one place, with specialist work offered by panel firms – to be known as network firms – sitting alongside the volume legal services offered by BT Law. He drew parallels with partnerships in other parts of BT’s business, where the company bids for external work on behalf of or with joint parties or through sub-contractors.

“In other parts of BT, they are always looking at opportunities to provide business-to-business solutions. I don’t see the legal market being any different. BT Law is not a consumer offering. We are about business-to-business service.”

BT Law, previously known as BT Claims, currently provides legal services only in the motor claims market, but is planning to move into public liability and employment law. 

The drivers for the move have been both corporate customer requests, as well as the large volume of employment expertise already within BT’s in-house legal team, which handles around 30 tribunal cases a month for the company. 

Jobling, who reports to BT’s general counsel Dan Fitz, also said that BT Law is “not interested in hourly rates except in exceptional cases”, with the company largely carrying out fixed-price work.

“I am really glad that BT is the first large corporate to go ahead with this licence. My question for other corporates is: why not look at our model and see the cost benefit to you?”

While the full panel line-up has not yet been decided, those to have been appointed so far are understood to include Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Bird & Bird, CMS Cameron McKenna and Gateley, as well as media law specialists Wiggin and Sheridans.

“We think it is an innovative and exciting idea that we are happy and keen to explore with BT,” said CMS telecoms head and client relationship partner Chris Watson.

The move comes in the same week that FTSE 250 outsourcing and construction group Carillion said it would be teaming up with law firm Clarkslegal to offer employment law advice to businesses, organisations and individuals.