THE LAW Society of New South Wales is supporting the Commonwealth Government’s proposed reforms of the process of procuring government legal work.
Among the reforms announced by Attorney General Robert McClelland last week, the government is developing standard tendering and contracting documents for agencies and law firms tendering for Commonwealth Government legal work. McClelland said the reform was aimed at simplifying the tendering process and reducing costs for the Government and for law firms.
President of the Law Society of New South Wales Hugh Macken said that this will allow for greater competition for government legal work.
“It is a positive step which will simplify the process,” Macken said.
“It will open government work to a wider range of law firms as the time consuming process will be simpler and consistent and thus easier to manage without necessarily needing specialist tender teams within law firms.
“An easier and slicker tendering process is good for government and good for the [legal] profession,” he said.
Macken also praised the government’s proposal to amend the Legal Services Directions to ensure that law firms which undertake pro bono work against the Commonwealth will not be discriminated against by Commonwealth agencies in the procurement process.
“The issue of pro bono work is one that has to be kept totally separate. If you do pro bono work you must be able to do it without fear or favour.
“That is in the public interest and, accordingly, that ought not play any part in the consideration of tender processes,” Macken said, adding that the exception would be if any legal conflicts arise.
In addition, the government is developing a standard reporting format for legal expenditure by commonwealth agencies, with McClelland describing legal reporting under the Howard Government as “a dog’s breakfast”. The new format will include a requirement for agencies to provide information on the number and value of briefs to male and female counsel.
Other amendments to the Legal Services Directions will strengthen the requirement for agencies to consider and use alternative dispute resolution process where appropriate and will enable a broader range of law firms to receive standing instructions to accept service of legal documents on behalf on the Commonwealth.
Macken believes that the proposed reforms will be effective in reducing costs associated with Commonwealth Government legal work.
“It’s an efficiency which, in the medium and long term, is likely to result in significant savings for the government, both in respect to the bureaucracy and management of their own processes and in respect to the quotes for the tender work which they receive from the private profession,” he said.
“So, as long as the system remains flexible enough, the simplification of these processes is something we welcome wholeheartedly.”