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In Legal Director’s Benchmarker survey this month, in-house lawyers have given beauty parades the thumbs down. Only 3% think they are a good thing and almost half (47%) either disagree or strongly disagree with them.In the last 10 years there has been a wave of beauty parades and panel reviews as clients have sought to stamp their authority on external advisers. They certainly showed the law firms exactly who was in charge – and how better to do this than line them up to sell their wares.But have beauty parades now served their purpose? There is little doubt that they are a costly and time-consuming exercise. The main complaint is that law firms often send the ‘beautiful people’ out to charm their way into the client’s heart; once the work is won, they are never seen again.But legal directors should consider very carefully before rejecting the beauty parade out of hand. In many instances there simply will be no other option. As businesses move to supply chain management and objective procurement processes, legal services are also affected.If in-house lawyers do not use a formal tendering and presentation process, management eyeing up the legal budget may be justified in asking how exactly they select their law firms. The charge that will be levelled is that lawyers see themselves as being above the hard graft of the procurement process, that ‘lawyers know best’ and should not have to justify value and costs to anyone, least of all the business users.In-house lawyers cannot rest on their laurels. They need to be able to justify who they use for external advice and why – if they cannot do that then they are not doing their job – and the business will soon pick up on that.Law firms may hate beauty parades, clients may hate them, but they are a necessary evil. The legal director can make them more worthwhile by taking control of the process; by insisting that only the partners that deal with the work display the wares; by bringing in the business users and providing as much information up-front as possible to ensure that it is not perceived as a waste of time. Beauty parades may be time consuming and they may be dull, but they may be the only way of establishing to the business that you are getting real value.

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