As we legal writers drag ourselves through the dog days of summer, we sometimes hit lulls in finding topics of interest. Lucky for me the United Kingdom continues to provide fodder for those exhorting North Americans to change the way legal services are delivered. And I count myself fortunate to have been able to connect with a number of players who are truly shaking up the legal services industry across the Atlantic.
While the spotlight on innovation is focussed primarily on the private sector, one municipal in-house legal team is starting to cause a sensation.
Geoff Wild has written a fascinating article on what he and his team have done, and continue to do, in Kent.
In Geoff’s words, “We simply asked: could local authority lawyers become players in the wider market and generate external income by charging or trading with, for example, council employees and members of the public, as well as private and public sector organisations? Over recent years, Kent County Council Legal Services has built up a thriving external practice based on providing high-quality, low-cost legal services to local authorities and public sector bodies across the country, which now accounts for more than 25% of its overall income and generates £1.5m a year.”
In essence, Kent “recruited and developed a flexible and highly motivated team of over 100 lawyers (many from private practice with a strong commercial nous) – a legal practice with a turnover of more than £7m and with at least 300 clients. Kent’s legal team is now well placed to match, and often exceed, whatever the private sector can offer.”
After some relatively recent amendments to local legislation, “solicitors employed in local government can act for any other organisation or person to whom the council is statutorily empowered to provide services. [and now have the] ability to generate significant income from … external sources… not only paying for the legal function, but also subsidising the delivery of frontline council services… [while also opening up] the potential for greater collaboration between local authority legal departments, raising standards and generating greater efficiency savings through achieving economies of scale and providing a healthy income generation stream – all of which will be of benefit to the councils, taxpayers and the community.”
According to Wild, in-house municipal lawyers faced with declining budgets, “need to adapt if they are to survive. The ultimate goal could be to enable local government lawyers to form their own regional ‘hubs’, providing legal services direct not only to the wider public sector, but also to the private sector.”
It seems I’m in the wrong country.