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 2018, seven government departments and 47 statutory agencies were utilising the Panel.
The Panel commenced on 1 March 2016 for a term of three years and four months, (i.e. 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 (AoLs). 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 Community Safety (DJCS), 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 2017-18 financial year totalled $114.74 million, which was an increase from the total of $104.41 million for 2016-17.
Panel firms have until 31 December after the end of each financial year to upload their pro bono data. In the 2016-17 financial year, Panel firms provided $25 million in pro bono services under the Panel contact, a significant 12 per cent increase on the previous year ($22.3 million). The 2017-18 pro bono data will be released when available and will be included in the 2018-19 Annual Report.
The Panel Contract requires each Panel firm to report on the firm’s briefing of women barristers. As at 30 June 2018, female barristers comprised 29 per cent of the Victorian Bar. Data for 2017-18 show that Panel firms provided 39 per cent of briefs and 25 per cent of fees to female barristers (compared to 33 per cent of briefs and 20 per cent of fees in 2016-17).
The Victorian Government is committed to supporting regional development by maximizing and promoting opportunities for regional suppliers through government procurement practices. In 2017-18, DJCS commissioned an external consultant to produce a Regional Engagement Strategy Report to inform the development of a regional legal services model. The Regional Report provided a number of recommendations for developing a Regional Legal Services List. DJCS will consult with Panel clients and regional providers and pursue the development of a Regional Legal Services List in 2019.
The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) undertook a performance audit in 2017-18 on all 34 State Purchase Contracts that provide goods and services to the Victorian Government, including the Legal Services Panel contract. The VAGO Report provided some general recommendations that DJCS will need to implement, along with the other lead departments. VAGO’s findings in respect of the Panel were otherwise supportive of DJCS's performance. A significant finding was that VAGO found no potential leakage for legal services, which shows that all Panel work is being provided to Panel firms.