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ABN’s Collins to take new RBS role; HSBC kicks off fees debate

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has launched a review of its UK panel of legal advisers, following senior changes to its in-house team in the wake of its merger with ABN Amro.

Next month RBS will be writing to panel firms to inform them of the review timetable in what will be one of the most competitive pitches of the year. Several non-panel firms that have performed well on ad hoc instructions will also be invited to tender.

“It is important for us to keep our panels fresh,” RBS deputy general counsel Chris Campbell told Legal Week.

Criteria for inclusion will centre on pricing, with RBS continuing to favour fixed fee billing over hourly rates.

Despite a turbulent 12 months that has seen RBS forced into partial state control, the bank remains one of the most coveted corporate clients in the UK. Current panel firms include Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Denton Wilde Sapte, DLA Piper, Linklaters, Eversheds and Herbert Smith.

The deadline for formal responses is July, with firms scheduled to be informed of the outcome in the final quarter of the year. Appointments will come into effect from 1 January, 2010.

ABN Amro’s regular legal advisers will be exempt from the review, with the Dutch bank’s existing panel arrangements remaining in place until it is fully integrated with RBS. As that process continues, ABN Amro general counsel John Collins is set to combine his existing duties with a new role as deputy director of group legal at RBS, reporting to Campbell.

The combined RBS-ABN legal team currently numbers around 525 globally including support staff, with approximately 250 of those working out of London and Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, HSBC has kicked off its annual consultation of fee rates with its UK legal advisers. Although the bank said this year’s consultation does not represent a full panel review, it could lead to firms which fail to offer competitive rates being removed from its roster.

“It is fair to say that we are looking for the most competitive rates possible and, accordingly, we have provided firms with more specific guidance than normal on what our expectations are,” said Richard Hennity, head of legal, HSBC Group Management Office.

Guidance notes were sent out to HSBC’s extensive list of panel firms this month, with responses required this week. The new arrangements will be finalised by 1 May. HSBC is set for its next full review in 2011.

Reviews from RBS and HSBC come amid a backdrop of pressure on adviser fees from major banking clients, who have been battered for 18 months by the prolonged credit crisis.

Other banks gearing up for adviser reviews this year include Barclays.

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