Councils call in CCT whiz-kids

Lawyers should stick to law and leave management to the business experts, according to some local authorities gearing up for tendering.

The public sector is taking a leaf out of the private sector book by recruiting non-lawyers to help run their organisations.

Chester City Council and Hillingdon Borough Council are both looking for practice managers with a business background while other authorities may follow suit.

Cathy Thomas, Hillingdon's head of corporate legal services, says: “What we want is somebody to manage the business side, to do a business plan and to oversee the time recording systems. Budgeting and accounting is very important but a lawyer is probably not the best person to do that kind of work.”

Hillingdon is seeking to replace practice manager Roger Smith who has been head-hunted by Hughes Watton, in Victoria.

“We thought it was probably cheaper to have a non-lawyer because then you are not paying for a legal qualification which is not being used,” Thomas says.

Charles Kerry, head of legal services at Chester, says: “I don't want someone coming in saying this is how we should be doing the legal side of things. I want someone to concentrate solely on the business side.

“We can't afford not to concentrate on these kind of issues,” he says.

Cambridge City Council also has a business specialist whose role is to put the legal department on a more competitive footing.

But the business manager is part of the professional services support team serving several departments.

Manchester's legal team took on a practice manager for the first time last month but the city council has appointed a lawyer to the post.

Gillian Phillips, head of the Law Society's local government group, says: “Clearly there are things that local authorities now need to do which never used to be necessary.” But each council must decide which is the most cost-effective way forward, she says.