Having advised local authorities both from within the service as a former assistant senior and chief officer and now in private practice, it is clear that maintaining a core legal service within local authorities is vital.
Whatever the management structure of a local authority, the role of the local government lawyer both on specific matters, as well as advising corporately, will continue to be a key element of the effective management and delivery of local government services.
Local authorities are not monolithic structures, they are all different and are providing services which, in commercial terms, are often equivalent to medium-sized corporations.
Bevan Ashford takes the view that we must “join forces” to support those in-house legal teams which sometimes need an ally. We aim to consolidate this in the formation of a new local government client management group.
The Local Government Client Management Group will be a strategically placed reinforcement at the disposal of in-house legal departments. The selection and use of outside legal firms has worked well for many years and for our part we do not see CCT as an opportunity to compete directly with in-house legal departments.
In that sense the relationships which we have built up over many years in supporting in-house legal departments will not change.
Whether it is a town centre redevelopment, EC law, local government finance, or in employment (TUPE) or general commercial services, we would prefer to provide advice for a dedicated support service.
We have successfully done this for London boroughs, counties, districts and related agencies and central government departments.
The quality public sector orientated law firms will continue to provide a service in support of local authorities and their legal departments and not compete directly. You have to decide where in the marketplace your services are targeted and we have decided that we intend to support not only in-house legal departments but local government itself.
The relationship between in-house legal departments and their external advisers will continue to be important, and is no different to supporting the commercial sectors.
Malcolm Iley is head of local government services at Bevan Ashford.