It is clearly too early to predict the eventual effects of CCT, but from the outside looking in, it seems unlikely that it will lead to the demise of the in-house legal department in local government. We certainly hope not.
Preparations for competition will have caused disruption for staff and increased the administrative burden of many in-house lawyers.
However, the preparatory process itself may well achieve some of the objectives of the system by enhancing efficiency and securing cost reductions.
It would be interesting to see the overall quality of CCT tenders. For many private firms there must be a great deal to learn about the nature of local authority legal services and the CCT process itself and for some, the potential implications of TUPE will be an effective disincentive to tendering.
Initial feedback seems to suggest an air of confidence among in-house lawyers, notwithstanding concern about the amount of time likely to be spent on administering and monitoring the system.
Long before the emergence of CCT, local authority legal departments had seen the benefits of using external legal resources in special cases, whether from counsel, parliamentary agents or private firms of solicitors.
There seems to be every incentive for them to continue to do so. Equally, the private sector would acknowledge that there are certain areas in which they could not hope to compete with in-house lawyers, who benefit from a working knowledge and understanding of their client and of the wider issues involved. Purely on fees, it can be difficult to match in-house rates based on costs plus a specified rate of return on capital assets, as opposed to rates which must include an element of commercial profit.
Local government has traditionally provided fertile ground for training specialist lawyers. It has offered experience of some of the most interesting, important and diverse legal issues they could hope to find in any branch of the profession, although it seems unlikely that the tendered work will reflect this. Private practice has often benefited from this process. We can only hope that in-house provision will continue and thrive, regardless of CCT.
Anna Forge is a member of the public sector law group at Berwin Leighton.