The number of lawyers in Whitehall could shrink as the government continues to centralise legal services under a new brand name, says the head of the Government Legal Service. 

Several government legal teams have been brought into the Treasury Solicitor’s Department (TSol) over the past two years - including the Home Office and Ministry of Justice - under the line management of Jonathan Jones (pictured), Treasury solicitor and head of the Government Legal Service.

TSol, which will be renamed the Government Legal Department, is in ‘active discussion’ with the Ministry of Defence and Department of Energy and Climate Change, Jones told the Whitehall and Industry Group last week.

The new structure, he said, enabled the department to eliminate duplication and overlap. But he warned changes were taking place in a period of continuing, and increasing, financial constraint.

TSol, which has more than 1,300 lawyers, has an annual budget of £160m, ‘almost entirely’ from fees charged to other government departments for the work it does for them – these are a combination of hourly rates (mainly for litigation work) and fixed fees (for advisory work).   

Jones said there was a ‘clear imperative on me and on the GLS to demonstrate that we are providing the government’s legal needs as efficiently and as economically as possible. It absolutely cannot be right that when so much of the rest of the civil service is facing cuts, lawyers are somehow exempt’.

Measures include ‘looking carefully at… whether lawyers need to be replaced when they move on or when particular projects are complete,’ Jones said.

Looking ahead to May’s general election, Jones predicted a ‘joined-up, coordinated legal response’ will be required to meet the demands of ‘big topics’ such as Europe, immigration and devolution that any new government will be confronted with. As a result, new joint teams or other structures may have to be established, he said.