Local Government Lawyer Insight December 2018 LocalGovernmentLawyer 12 North Yorkshire County Council’s legal department has a long history of providing value-for-money services to their colleagues at the council and external clients. We are an innovative, commercially-focused legal team and we like to keep ourselves at the forefront of the latest legal developments. The exciting prospect of setting up an alternative business structure, or ABS, captured our entrepreneurial spirit particularly as we would be the first to evolve from an in-house legal team in the North of England. We are confident that our expertise and knowledge would provide a valuable resource to others. However, due to regulatory rules, we are not able to sell our services more widely than the North Yorkshire boundaries. Our aim was to provide legal services to the public, private and voluntary sectors through a stand-alone company initially using seconded resource from NYCC. Thus, First North Law Ltd was born. I was under no illusion that it was going to be easy; I needed to draw on a multitude of skills that I had developed along the way in traditional legal roles and also from my experience of setting up my own company outside of my legal career. Firstly, we looked at our unique selling points; what customers would want; and how we could compete in the market place with our private sector colleagues. We needed to play to our strengths and start with a sector in which we excel - the education legal advice sector - and exploit our significant expertise in this area. Finding our place We quickly identified our unique selling points which are listed below. 1. We are a trusted brand: we are North Yorkshire County Council’s in-house team but are seconded to work for First North Law. Whilst we have a specialist legal education advice team, we provide a full range of legal support from commercial/procurement support, employment law to children’s/adult’s social care advice. 2. First North Law operates with a strong public sector ethos and profits made will be invested back into the public sector. Our customers will benefit from receiving excellent legal services that are extremely competitively priced in comparison with other legal services providers. We work in true partnership with our customers. 3. We offer a significant range of legal services and have particular expertise in the education sector; we understand the legal duties and challenges faced in this area and this enables us to achieve the best outcomes for our customers. Our legal advice helpline provides services to schools, colleges and academies and has been operational for over 17 years. Our legal services in this area are second to none. 4. We act with transparency, honesty and reliability built into every aspect of our work to give complete confidence in our services and charges to our customers. Lining up the hurdles We also needed to identify and overcome the challenges ahead. We knew, in the real world, we were not going to be able to be completely certain about our business uptake and growth; as with the majority of new ‘start up’ companies, this was going to be a risk management exercise between best and worst case scenarios. We communicated this very clearly to our elected members and senior management. We were careful to keep the development team small and worked with colleagues who had experience of working ‘outside the box’ and who were skilled at securing cooperation from others. This kept bureaucracy in decision-making to a minimum and allowed the project to develop at pace. We did not want this project to be ‘just another job’, it was important for everyone to understand that this constituted an important opportunity to diversify workload, generate revenue, and provide job security for the future. Securing this goodwill, support and willingness to learn new systems and processes and adopt a more commercial mind-set was instrumental to the success of the project. It was also critical to get elected member and NYCC senior management What does it take to set up a legal services alternative business structure? Hilary Irving of North Yorkshire County Council outlines the risks and rewards. Striking out in a new direction: Setting up an ABS