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Briefing encounters

Banks have become more sophisticated in the way they choose their law firms. But have they got it right yet? By Christopher Stoakes.

This is the time of year when banks begin to think about switching the law firms they instruct. The transaction-intensive months up to the year-end are over, so the need to maintain relationships with favoured firms recedes. At the same time, those intense months may have revealed shortcomings in the law firms a bank uses. Now is the time to review the selection procedure, with a view to putting a revised panel in place before the summer.

Investment banks tend to have an informal group of firms that they rotate depending purely on price. The issuer is paying, either directly or indirectly, or the legal fees are factored into the mandate. The pool of firms with the requisite expertise is small. The banks and firms know each other well. So price is the determining factor ­ although, increasingly, there is the question of whether a firm can offer both English and New York law expertise or has an office in the issuer's jurisdiction.

Commercial banks are different. Their needs are wider and more prosaic. Typically, a commercial bank will have a panel of up to eight firms. One or two may be heavyweights, regarded as the bank's principal lawyers and used sparingly to help the marketability of particular deals.

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