Few parts of the public sector have responded to the extreme demands of austerity with as much creativity as local government legal teams. These teams have endured painful cuts that have restricted what they are able to deliver for their hard-pressed clients.
But, as evident from this week’s Gazette roundtable, the response in many instances has been about much more than managing decline. Legal functions have set up ABSs, created ‘mutuals’ and ‘spinoffs’. Legal resources have consequently been shared between councils, and some have moved away from being an overhead to being potential profit centres.
Many have found new ways of partnering with private practice to deliver the advice clients need.
Such a flowering of innovation will not, in all cases, be an unqualified success. But where it is, preserving the core of what an in-house legal team adds, it is certainly in the public interest.
As roundtable attendees noted, in-house teams are in a position to understand the politics of the council, provide junior lawyers with experience they would not get in private practice, and to produce the practical advice on which local government depends to run smoothly.