The Victorian Government Legal Services Panel (the Panel) is a whole of government procurement contract that aims to provide access to high quality legal services for government departments and statutory agencies that represent good value for money. It also aims to strengthen and support pro bono work, and equal opportunity briefing practices, by those firms appointed to the Panel. As at 30 June 2017, seven government departments and 44 statutory agencies were utilising the Panel.
The Panel commenced on 1 March 2016 for a term of three years and four months, that is, until 30 June 2019, with an option to extend it for a further three years. Twenty-three law firms were appointed to the Panel to provide legal services across 13 Areas of Law. The Victorian Government Solicitor's Office (VGSO) is able to compete for work across all Panel categories, as well as provide specialised legal advice to government departments and statutory agencies through VGSO Exclusive Services.
The Department of Justice and Regulation (DJR), as the lead department, is responsible for the development and ongoing management of the Panel, which includes managing Panel firm performance and the delivery of legal services according to the provisions of the Deed of Standing Offer for the Provision of Legal Services (‘the Panel Contract’).
Panel expenditure is recorded through monthly transactional reports that are uploaded by Panel firms on to a secure online portal, and reported through BI Oracle software. The recorded expenditure under the Panel arrangements for the 2016-17 financial year totalled $113.09M, which was an increase from the 2015-16 financial year, when expenditure of $95.04M was recorded.
This increase in expenditure is largely attributable to:
- the increased number of government entities that are utilising the Panel (accounting for approximately $9.97M of the Panel’s overall expenditure); and
- the improved process by which expenditure data is captured under the current Panel’s reporting systems. The 2016-17 financial year was the first full year of the Panel’s operation. Legal purchasing for two thirds of the 2015-16 year (i.e. prior to the commencement of the current Panel on 1 March 2016) occurred under the previous Panel using its reporting systems.
Panel firms have until 31 December after the end of each financial year to upload their pro bono data. Over the first six years of the previous Panel (2009 – 2015), Panel firms provided $114M in pro bono services to community organisations and disadvantaged clients as part of their Panel Contract obligations. In the 2015-16 financial year, Panel firms provided $22.3M in pro bono services under the Panel contact, a significant 43 per cent increase on the previous year ($15.6M). The 2016-17 pro bono data will be released when available and included in the 2017-18 Annual Report.
The Panel Contract requires each Panel firm to report on the firm’s briefing of women barristers. As at June 2017, female barristers comprised 29% of the Victorian Bar. Data provided for 2016-17 show that 66% of briefs and 39% of fees went to female barristers [compared to 66 per cent of briefs, and 43 per cent of fees to female barristers in 2015-16]. These data are compiled by combining figures from panel-briefed barrister reports, VGSO brief reports and direct briefs by Panel clients (please see full report - tables 6 to 9, pp.18-20).