In the latest attempt to tackle skills shortages caused by the yawning earnings gap between lawyers in the public sector and international firms, Whitehall is offering trainees a chance to specialise in commercial law. The initiative was announced last month by Jonathan Jones, permanant secretary of the Government Legal Department. 

Jones said the ‘next chapter’ in the development of the department’s commercial law group would be part of a government-wide effort to develop its ability to deal with private contractors, who since the 1980s have taken over swaths of government services. The group was set up in 2014, drawing commercial lawyers from different government departments to create a critical mass of expertise.

The group’s lawyers have advised on matters as diverse as the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the re-procurement of the NHS supply chain, the proposed restoration of the Palace of Westminster and contingencies arising from the collapse of Carillion plc, Jones said. 

In a blog post, he reveals that the group is being expanded with the appointment of two new deputy directors and an increase in the number of senior lawyers posts from eight to 13. Tacitly admitting the difficulty of luring mid-career lawyers directly from the City, he says from 2019 the group will be offering trainees the opportunity to specialise in commercial law. It is also ’working on ways to ensure we are making best use of the terrifically diverse skills and knowledge possessed by individuals in the group’.

Meanwhile, commercial lawyers looking for a ’unique environment in which to exercise their skills’ are invited to look out for advertisements.