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Number of shared legal services set to double as demand for advice climbs amid cuts

Legal Dept of the FutureMore than half of local authority legal teams are set to be part of some form of shared service arrangement as heads of legal struggle to cope with growing demand for legal services, exclusive research by Local Government Lawyer has found.

The survey of 100 heads of legal for the Legal Department of the Future report found 26% of legal teams are already in shared services arrangements, with the same proportion again saying that they were “actively considering” forming or joining a shared legal service, potentially taking the proportion of councils with shared legal teams to 52%.

The growth in shared services comes in response to the continued rise in demand for local authority legal services, which is predicted to grow by at least 5% a year by 81% of respondents (and by 10% by 44%). As well as the impact of new legislation and challenges to service cuts, part of the reason for the growth in demand is the increased reliance on legal by client departments as senior officers leave. This loss of experience was listed as the second biggest challenge facing heads of legal after cost control.

More than half (55%) of legal teams say that they already sell legal services externally, with 5% about to begin doing so and a further 23% saying that it is under consideration. A quarter of legal departments have either applied for, already have or are “seriously considering” ABS status.

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The survey also sought the views of more than 300 local government lawyers generally on the effect of these changes on their career prospects and morale. A significant minority (29%) said that they would be less likely to apply for a job in a shared legal service, but many were more enthusiastic about the prospect of working in a department with a large number of external clients, which 62% agreed would be “an opportunity for me to acquire new experience and skills”.

The most important factors for local government lawyers when deciding on where to work are pay/pension, work-life balance and quality and type of work available. Meanwhile, 80% of heads of legal said they find it difficult to recruit good lawyers, with 40% expecting recruitment to get harder still in future.

Asked about their general satisfaction with their working lives, respondents score quality of work and work-life balance quite highly at 7.1 and 6.7 (out-of-10) respectively but satisfaction with career prospects recorded just 4.3. Since the equivalent survey was last taken in 2013, the proportion of local government lawyers who describe their primary career ambition to be “moving into or up the management chain” has dropped sharply from 44% to 36%.

These findings are underlined by the prediction from heads of legal that senior ranks of lawyers would be reduced to be replaced by more junior grades and part- or non-qualified staff.

Overall, the proportion of local government lawyers who would recommend a legal career in local government is 70%, a fall of 7% since 2013. However, 72% would recommend their own departments as a place to work, a drop of just 1% in the same period.

The survey findings and report can be read at: www.localgovernmentlawyer/ldotf

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