As the Government Legal Department unveils its three-year business strategy, Treasury solicitor Susanna McGibbon expands on its goals of becoming a national GLD while offering rewarding careers

Susanna McGibbon

April marks the start of the Government Legal Department’s three-year business strategy, which Treasury solicitor Susanna McGibbon (pictured) hopes will turn GLD from a ‘great’ department to an ‘outstanding’ one by 2027.

I met McGibbon at GLD’s London headquarters in Petty France this week to learn more. The strategy has three ambitions: become a national GLD; provide rewarding careers for all; and create an environment fit for the future.

When I ask about becoming a ‘national GLD’ and what this means in practical terms for staff, McGibbon says it is ultimately about culture, not buildings. ‘I want people to know and feel they’re in GLD wherever they happen to sit.’

Staff will have a ‘base location’, McGibbon says. But they might be, for instance, a litigation lawyer doing either Ministry of Justice private law work, or personal injury claims that arise in prisons. ‘They would do that from Manchester, having colleagues in London doing something similar,’ McGibbon says. But it is being part of the GLD that binds them together, ‘even if they happen to be sitting with their policy colleagues in the Home Office’.

What GLD is not doing, McGibbon says, ‘is scattering our lawyers wherever a government department happens to pop up’. The Home Office has a base in Stoke-on-Trent ‘but I’m not going to send one or two lawyers to Stoke-on-Trent because of that’.

McGibbon wants to create a sense of belonging: ‘I deliberately do not talk about the regions, London or outside London, because I want everyone to feel like they have got some skin in the game whether in career terms, opportunity terms, or the way they contribute to the wider life of the department.’

I move the conversation on to GLD’s client satisfaction survey. While GLD hit its 95% target in 2022/23, the result was a one percentage point drop on the previous year. Why does McGibbon think it dropped?

‘Lawyers have been really pressured and there are not enough of us to go around. Everyone is very stretched. Last year particularly, we were carrying more vacancies, which meant many people were more stretched. People were leaving [at a slightly higher rate] than historically.’

McGibbon says she built a case for enhanced remuneration ‘where we were partially successful, so most of our lawyers have benefited from an increase in their pay settlement’. Before that came about, GLD was seeing attrition. ‘If you come to government, you do not expect to be able to match private sector pay.’ GLD’s competition? The bigger law firms.

McGibbon says pay has stagnated over the years but ‘it has always been the case we cannot match our private sector equivalents’.

While building a pay case, she adds, ‘we did not go on private sector comparisons, we went to the wider public sector and we were still behind. The experts did a proper analysis of the mean and median public sector pay across the piece’.

McGibbon managed to secure an enhanced pay offer for grades 6 and 7 lawyers. As for trainees and paralegals, and corporate services staff, she’s working on it.

I ask about the newly created chief operating officer role. GLD announced last month that Richard Cornish was taking up the post, joining from the Ministry of Defence where he was chief executive of Defence Business Services.

McGibbon says: ‘It has been part of my vision since becoming Treasury solicitor [in 2021], building on what we were doing previously, to become an ever more professional organisation, professional across all of our functions. Underinvesting in corporate services is a false economy to me.’

By making the chief operating officer a director general, McGibbon hopes corporate services colleagues ‘see they have a champion with some clout around the table’ who is an expert in their own field, not the law.

GLD feels more like a law firm than an in-house department, I remark. ‘We’re almost like a law firm within an organisation,’ McGibbon says. ‘We’re a bit of a mix. I’m relaxed about that. We’re both in-house and structured a bit like a law firm. We run our own litigation, our contentious work is the sort of stuff most in-house teams would outsource.’

As we wrap up the interview, I ask what one message she wants to convey to the outside world about her department. ‘I want people to know about GLD, because we’re here providing government of the day with the best possible legal advice on behalf of our fellow citizens, and we do it in an environment that’s supportive, diverse, inclusive and unique.’


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