[UPDATED] One small firm that tendered for the Victorian Government's legal panel has disputed claims that the process was "a sham".
Guild Lawyers, which has a team of 12, including two partners, four lawyers and two paralegals, was recently appointed to the panel, principal Kellie Dell'Oro told Lawyers Weekly.
"We are a small firm and there was a clear commitment by the government to appoint small firms to the extent to which larger firms were not able to nominate themselves for more than two specialist panels," she said.
"We were appointed because we were able to demonstrate the expertise and the capacity to meet the government's expectations."
Anger was expressed on Crikey via anonymous posts from small- to medium-sized law firms, which complained about the tender and appointment process for the panel.
Comments said that small to medium firms had put in bids on the basis that the government wanted smaller firms on the panel.
"Tens of thousands of dollars later - we don't have marketing staff for a tender of this size - and hundreds of hours working through the crap system for lodging tenders we find the whole thing was a sham," an anonymous post said. "The same firms that were there before are there now! And guess what...
"No small law firms, except for some in very specialised areas worth no money, made the grade. Instead we are fed again on a diet of legal services costing up to 50 per cent more than it needs to ... well done."
Dell'Oro agreed that an incredibly comprehensive and detailed response was required for the tender, which took an enormous amount of hours but said it was "only fair that they set the bar in that way".
She also disagreed with the blogger's claim that small firms were only appointed to "very specialised areas worth no money", noting that specialist panels, such as the coronial inquests panel, have the potential to account for legal fees in excess of $1 million dollars.
When approached by Lawyers Weekly, the Victorian Department of Justice denied the allegations and said the panel was made up of all levels of law firms, including small- and medium-sized firms which had tendered.
"All firms that tendered for the panel were evaluated on their responses to the tender specifications, including their capacity to deliver the legal service, their legal expertise and on overall value for money. The tender for the panel arrangements provided for cost-competitive fee rates for the government," the spokesperson said.
"A probity advisor appointed to oversee the process has ensured that the evaluation of tenders was fair and transparent. Each recommendation to appoint a firm to the panel was made on a coherent and even-handed basis."
The spokesperson added that regional firms had benefited from the Regional Sourcing Policy, which allows the Government to source legal services from rural and regional firms if the matter relates to a specific region. The expected cost is less than $25,000, the spokesperson said, and a regional firm can offer same or better value for money
- Sarah Sharples
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