Reviewed by: Dr Nicholas Dobson
Author: John Emms
Publisher: Local Government Legal Society Trust Fund
Price: £9.95

To understand where we are and where we are going, we need to know where we have come from. That at least is one purpose of history. And local government lawyers are now fortunate to have their very own historical memoire. For in March John Emms, former solicitor to Kirklees Council, published the municipal version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy aka Local Lawyers: Public Practice.

This takes the reader on a journey from the chill post-war bleakness of 1947 (when local authorities were nevertheless at the peak of their legal powers and responsibilities) to the modern age of austerity, where efficient, effective and economic collaboration is key, and the once mighty town clerk has morphed down into what is frequently a third- or fourth-tier head of legal.

It was back in 1947 that local government lawyers began to organise themselves into the then Local Government Legal Society (LGLS), following a historic meeting in a Nottingham tea shop (the long dark teatime of the local authority legal soul?). The primary aim (now undoubtedly realised) was to build a local authority legal service offering ‘a good esprit de corps’ and ‘an attractive career for solicitors’. And so Emms takes us (as Bob Dylan might have said) on an engaging trip on his magic swirling ship through the foggy ruins of municipal time. Through the development of LGLS. Through the Law Society’s Local Government Group. And through the subsequent Solicitors in Local Government to the merger with chief officer association ACSeS to form the present unified Lawyers in Local Government.

Much fascinating anecdote and remembrance is to be found, together with a plenitude of pictures and an index, to look up namechecks of colleagues or former colleagues. Emms is to be congratulated for undertaking this demanding project with all the daunting hard work and research required. As he writes in the preface: ‘I haven’t counted the number of folk whom I have bombarded with letters, phone calls and especially e-mails asking or begging for or demanding information, recollections and anecdotes, but it must be over a hundred.’

However, if Churchill once said: ‘History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it,’ Emms has undoubtedly done local government lawyers a kindness by giving them a solid sense of where they have come from, with all the different personalities and events that have become woven together to form the tapestry of today.

Dr Nicholas Dobson is a lawyer specialising in local authority law and governance