The In-house Interview: Local hero

Gifty Edila

If there is one thing Gifty Edila likes it is a challenge. So when recruiters tried to lure her from her position as legal chief at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to a potentially tougher role at the London Borough of Hackney, they did not have too much convincing to do.

“I was approached about Hackney by the same recruiter that took me to Kensington and Chelsea,” explains Edila. “They knew the kind of challenges involved and thought I’d be interested.”

And interested she was, given that Hackney has what Edila describes as an “exciting modernisation agenda” and is involved in major regeneration projects. Oh, and then there is the Olympics, of course.

Hackney, which owns a third of the Olympic site, is one of five

so-called Olympic Boroughs and as such receives some funding from the Olympic Delivery Authority. For Edila, being one of the boroughs so closely linked with something of such national importance is certainly exhilarating.

“Our pride and joy is that the media centre will be on our site,” she says.

But the significance of what the Olympics means for the area in the longer term is what really gets her excited.

“We want the legacy,” says Edila. “We’re very keen on decent homes, green energy and an improved environment. We also want to maintain a high level of employment post-Olympics. We’re working on various legal agreements behind the scenes.”

Certainly regeneration is a key area of the Hackney legal team’s work, with the authority currently involved with one of the biggest regeneration projects in the whole of the UK. And it is a project that is potentially set to last for up to a decade, with the landscape in London’s Manor House set to be transformed.

“We’re gradually pulling down housing and shops in that area and rebuilding a mixed community with new shops and housing,” says Edila. “We’re working on choosing the preferred developer for the next phase.”

All this comes at a time when Edila, who joined Hackney in February this year, has been busy restructuring her own team. That has involved reorganising the number of teams her 60-strong department is divided into so that each person has a wider remit and a clearer career path. All this while carrying 20 vacancies looking to be filled.

“The biggest challenge for us is effectively managing resource,” says Edila. “We’re in a recession and that’s impacting on the public sector, but we have to make sure we streamline resources while recruiting really talented people to fill the large number of vacancies we carry. We’ve got some really talented locum staff and that’s what keeps us going.”

With a legal budget of £6m there is plenty of work to be done, although Edila is keen to farm a slightly higher level of work out to external law firms and chambers.

“We’re now about 90 per cent internal,” she says. “We were out with quite a significant volume previously – about 50 per cent. That started coming in-house before I joined. Big projects do demand support from outside and I’m reviewing ourexternal panel of barristers and the solicitors we use. The balance should be about 80:20.”

As reported by The Lawyer last month (26 October), Edila is looking to get better value for money from the barristers she uses and is looking to revamp a panel that was put in place at the authority in 2006.

In terms of law firms, Edila uses the Treasury’s Office of Government Commerce framework to purchase legal services, passing work to the likes of Berwin Leighton Paisner, Bevan Brittan, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons and Trowers & Hamlins.

Discussions are afoot, though, to join the London Boroughs Legal Alliance – a scheme that has been set up to allow local authorities to procure legal services from one joint panel. If that comes off, it could have the potential to significantly cut Edila’s legal spend – and that is something she would certainly embrace.

Name: Gifty Edila
Organisation: London Borough of Hackney
Industry: Local government
Job title: General counsel and corporate director, legal and democratic services
Reporting to: Chief executive Tim Shields
Turnover: £1bn
Number of employees: 4,100
Legal capability: 66
Main external law firms: Bevan Brittan, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Simons Muirhead & Burton, Trowers & Hamlins, Wragge & Co
Main external barristers’ chambers: 4 Brick Court, 39 Essex Street, 6 Pump Court, Tanfield Chambers, Three Raymond Buildings, 2-3 Gray’s Inn Square, Ely Place Chambers, Field Court Chambers
Legal spend: £6m

Gifty Edila’s CV

1975-78: LLB (Hons), University of London
1978-79: Barrister-at-law, Inner Temple
1980-81: LLM, London School of Economics

Work history:
1979-80: Barrister, Brick Court Chambers
1981-82: In-house barrister, NorthKensington Law Centre
1985-88: Barrister, Camden Law Centre
1988-2001: Senior solicitor, principalsolicitor, head of legal, London Borough of Newham
2001-09: Director of law and administration, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
2009-present: General counsel and corporate director, legal and democratic services, Hackney