The Leeds fulfils legal growth plan

THE LEEDS Building Society, which is doubling the size of its in-house legal department, first considered expanding more than two years ago.

But practical business developments made it difficult to take on staff who were “desperately needed”, says head of legals, Ann O'Brien.

The Leeds is now recruiting three specialist lawyers to deal with insurance, litigation and commercial property matters, as well as a general lawyer to act as a legal “help desk” for the group.

The department currently consists of two full-time and two part-time lawyers with O'Brien at the head. “The recruitment does not reflect a sudden need to expand,” says O'Brien.

“We have had a very small department for a long time but previous attempts to take on more staff have been put on hold for various reasons.”

O'Brien cites the departure of chief executive Mike Blackburn, the merger with the Sussex-based Southdown Building Society and the proposed merger with the National Provincial as examples of business developments which led to a temporary staffing freeze.

The Leeds has recently unveiled its new life assurance and unit trust companies and these have generated extra work, O'Brien says.

“It was getting to the stage where we were absolutely desperate for staff,” she adds.

Doubling the size of the department will inevitably mean that some work which was previously outsourced will now be done in-house. But O'Brien, who took over as chief solicitor in 1987 says there will still be a need for both.

The last shake-up of legal work at The Leeds took place in 1988, coinciding with the arrival of a new chief executive.

O'Brien, who undertook the review, says: “I thought there was a lot of unproductive work being done in-house.”