Food for thought on the legal tender of the City of Rotterdam

The Municipality of Rotterdam has released calls for tender for legal and notary service contracts for a period of several years. However, the selection criteria for this tender are designed in such a way that only the largest law and notary firms stand a chance of winning the tender.

The Municipality of Rotterdam prefers to sign a contract with one law firm that can provide legal expertise in all legal fields. There is a possibility to apply as a combination of several offices to meet this criteria. As a Rotterdam-based midsized law firm with 50 lawyers, we have examined this option. Though it’s not impossible, the amount of effort that is needed to form a combination does not outweigh the limited chance of winning that is perceived through the set criteria.

First of all, the first criteria starts with a “quality of capacity and the extend of expertise”, meaning that it is insufficient to employ a certain minimum amount of experts. Employing more lawyers directly results in more points to win the tender. The municipality confirms the “more is better”-credo in an information notice and such credo is thé strength of large firms. Even regarding the size of the Municipality of Rotterdam, such criterion is too heavy in my opinion. There is absolutely an optimum to the number of lawyers who are directly available when needed. Even if we would collaborate in a Rotterdam-based combination, how many firms would be sufficient to get the maximum number of points in the tender? The current, external law firm employs almost 300 professionals. With an expected revenue of €2,000,000 per year and a relatively low hourly-fee of €200, the work could be done with 8 FTE lawyers. We could definitely deal with that, having 50 lawyers.

Another noticeable aspect in the tender is the third criterion of “knowledge management”. Our characterizing hands-on mentality is not evaluated by points in this tender. The tender demands a list of academic achievements such as publications in renowned journals, number of professors and teachers. This element is another great strength of the large firms. Naturally, we take the academic aspects of our work seriously, but the academic aspect of us is generally not like the scope and the focus of the big firms. Moreover, a large part of our work does not necessarily improve once you employ more professors.

An example of a project taken by the Municipality of Rotterdam is one that Kneppelhout has done and I know that other Rotterdam-based midsized firms or niche firms have perfectly executed large and perhaps hotbed projects from the Municipality of Rotterdam. During the tender for the PPS Hart van Zuid, a large renovation project in the south of Rotterdam, Kneppelhout was involved on behalf of one of the private parties. In this project, we drafted the agreements to the full satisfacton of all parties, together with one of the niche firms who was assisting the Municipality of Rotterdam and the contractor's lawyer. Concerning the third criterion of “relevance of references”, we are able to name 10 references from cases in which the governmental contractor was fully satisfied with our performance.

There are numerous midsized or niche firms from Rotterdam and beyond that have rather serious candidates separately per legal field. The Procurement Act states that larger tenders should be released in smaller calls to give SMEs more chances of winning the tender. Though the Municipality identifies 10 legal fields, Rotterdam does not opt to release the call into 10 separate tenders. Rotterdam worries that it may lead to problems in the execution, for example in cases that cover several areas of law. In my opinion, such issue can easily be solved considering the fact that the Municipality decides who will execute the task. Choosing several firms would have provided the Municipality of Rotterdam itself the freedom to choose the right lawyer for the right case. That choice is now up to the chosen firm or combination of firms, that may not automatically lead to the best result.

Saying this does not do anything about the fact that all large firms, or perhaps a combination of firms, are more than qualified to become the new lawyer for the Municipality of Rotterdam. My view is that they could have gotten more out of this tender. More opportunities for the (Rotterdam’s) legal industry, more (financial) competition and more probability for a true win/win for the city. I would register for a call on separate tenders right away or maybe compose a combination of Rotterdam-based firms if we would stand a chance of winning the tender. The general line and information notices tell otherwise. I don’t have another choice but devoting time to help my current (governmental) clients. As many know who are concerned with tenders, they take up a lot of your precious time. Sadly, I have to pass the tender of 7 December. I would like to wish the best to the Municipality of Rotterdam and other law firms in the upcoming tender.

Ingomar Souren,

Kneppelhout & Korthals Lawyers, Rotterdam