Network Rail slashes core panel from 12 firms to five as Dentons wins role

Dentons has won an appointment to Network Rail’s legal panel following an adviser review that has seen the rail operator’s core external roster cut from 12 law firms to five.

Three firms in addition to Dentons have been appointed to cover England and Wales: longstanding advisers Bond Pearce, Eversheds and Addleshaw Goddard. 

All four will handle a full range of work including corporate, property, pensions and employment. Maclay Murray & Spens has been appointed to advise on Scots law matters.

Three previous panel firms have been retained for smaller roles, with Clifford Chance set to handle capital markets and treasury matters, Kennedys chosen for health and safety and regulatory enforcement work, and Winckworth Sherwood for public law.

Firms appointed during the last review in 2009 no longer on the panel include Simmons & Simmons, Berrymans Lace Mawer, Bircham Dyson Bell, Schofield Sweeney and MacRoberts, while seven other unnamed firms who were invited to pitch were unsuccessful. Simmons took the decision early in the process not to re-tender.

Network Rail GC Suzanne Wise (pictured), who led the review, said Dentons’ well-established low-cost base in Milton Keynes was a major factor in its successful pitch.

She commented: “I want to emphasise that firms have been taken off the panel not because of any concerns about the quality of their service or support, but because we needed to reduce the size of the panel to gain the efficiencies of scale and a closer strategic relationship.”

The new appointments will run for four years from the end of this month, with the possibility of a two-year extension to 2019. Appointed firms have agreed to provide secondees, as well as training for Network Rail’s in-house team, which is set to increase by five lawyers to roughly 30.

The panel review kicked off last November, with the aim of driving savings as part of wider plans to reduce costs in the company’s corporate services team, which houses the legal function, by 18%.

A major aim from Network Rail’s review was to build stronger relationships with a select group of law firms, with the in-house team finding it difficult to develop close links with all 12 previous advisers. 

Firms were scored on several criteria, with technical abilities making up the bulk of the scoring.

The review also assessed firms’ commercial stance and their approach to fixed fees, alternative fee arrangements, volume discount work, hourly rates and added value support. Dentons’ appointment will be seen as a vindication of the firm’s strategy to expand its lower-cost office in Milton Keynes.