Local government lawyers identify seven models for council legal provision in future

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By Legal Futures

30 September 2010

Manchester Town Hall: council legal departments need to rethink their strategy, ACSeS urges

The body representing senior council lawyers has called on local authority legal departments to make “a step change” in the way they work as they face up to the so-called age of austerity and the opportunities offered by alternative business structures – including the possibility of management buy-outs. 

As reported by the website Local Government Lawyer, the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (ACSeS) has identified seven potential models for legal services going forward that address issues such as service quality outcomes, economy, efficiency and effectiveness. 

They range from traditional in-house arrangements at one end of the spectrum to externalisation of in-house services to the private sector with a retained small strategic core and intelligent client function at the other. In between are internal trading account models, a shared services model with limited integration, a “main provider” model with full integration, and a joint venture with a law firm. 

The call was made after a meeting earlier this month of senior local government and private sector lawyers to consider potential models of delivery of legal services going forwards. 

ACSeS president Mirza Ahmad, who convened the meeting and is also corporate director of governance at Birmingham City Council, said the models could be applied to entire legal or support service teams or parts of them, such as employment, litigation, HR, finance, property and planning. 

These could be delivered through a number of different legal structures, including: 

  • Companies limited by guarantee
  • Limited liability partnerships
  • Charities
  • Unincorporated associations, or
  • Community interest companies.

Some legal or support services teams could consider a management buy-out “subject to consideration of appropriate legal and governance implications”, it was suggested. 

The association said each authority would have to make its own strategic evaluation “of where it currently is and where it needs to be”. But it insisted that a step change in performance was key. 

Mr Ahmad said: “ACSeS recognises that, in this age of austerity, there has to be a mindset change and any service delivery model must generate efficiencies and effectiveness, including substantial cost reductions. “Each of the seven models put forward for discussion will require different skills and abilities from the individuals involved. Leadership will, undoubtedly, play an important part in providing that strategic intent and direction to the organisations.” 

ACSeS plans to start a dialogue on the issue with government departments, professional associations such as SOLACE and CIPFA, and other stakeholders. 

Those at the meeting were: 

  • Dr Ahmad
  • Geoff Wild, director of law and governance at Kent County Council
  • Philip Thomson, county solicitor at Essex County Council
  • Mark Hynes, director of legal and democratic services at the London Borough of Lambeth
  • Deborah Collins, strategic director of communities at the London Borough of Southwark
  • Beth Evans, partner at Legal Futures Associate Bevan Brittan
  • Mark Greenburgh, partner at Wragge & Co
  • Tony Kilner, policy and development officer at ACSeS 

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