Insight Local Government Lawyer Insight December 2018 5 The problem is particularly acute in certain areas. The three sectors that are most affected are, according to Sellick, childcare; contract; and, particularly in the south east, housing including debt recovery. Discussing childcare, Cottam says: "Historically councils paid whatever was needed. Now, because of the funding crisis, they can't offer big money anymore." Supply and demand One of the reasons for the current dearth of experienced mid-level lawyers in the profession has been the gradual drying up of new talent coming in at the bottom in the form of trainee solicitors. Binjal remembers the days when local councils "used to have two or three trainees". But the post-2007 funding cuts changed that, and many authorities stopped trainee recruitment completely. Back at the start of this decade, the flow of annual traineeship registrations dipped so low that lawyers would need to have worked well beyond their life expectancy (to age 89) to maintain numbers. Nowadays, those LAs which do recruit a trainee lawyer generally stick at one. But, in contrast with private practice, councils tend to let them go when they qualify. It remains an uphill task to persuade peers in HR and Finance of the value of retaining newly-qualifieds. Jill Coule, who has just transferred from the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton to take up the position of Chief Legal & Monitoring Officer at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, is distinctly concerned. "The letting go of trainees is a real issue," she says. "I have let high quality newly-qualified solicitors walk out the door at the end of their training contract. "Unless a vacancy coincides with a trainee solicitor departure/end of training contract, it's very difficult to keep hold of trainees that become super numeri to your staffing structure at the point of qualification? It does, therefore, mean that you don't get more of the benefit of the investment that you, your staff and the organisation have made to the trainees." Rise of the machines? So what can local authorities do if they struggle to push up recruitment numbers? AI (Artificial Intelligence) is another partial solution. "It would release lawyers to do more specialist work," says Binjal. "A lot of our work is routine which eventually could be picked up by AI. Most of the City firms have introduced it. There are huge areas where it could be used." However, local government has not been a fast adopter - and Tanya Corsie of Iken predicts that even the most Number crunching How the figures stack up: ● Numbers of lawyer trainees starting in Local Government per annum (average of last three years) = 83 ● Numbers of Law Society solicitors working in Local Government (average of last three years) = 4,491 ● Therefore (4,491/83), lawyers need to work an average of 54 years to maintain the current workforce level ● Assuming lawyers qualify, on average, at age 23, they would need to work to age 77 (23 + 54) to maintain present numbers without external recruitment. Source of statistics: Law Society of England and Wales