Insight Local Government Lawyer Insight December 2018 9 to do something that makes a difference. My commitment is there for the organisation and I can see things from a different perspective.” So what does she see as some of the key issues facing the local government legal profession? Having a handle on the increasingly complex governance arrangements in place is one, she says. “It is a case of really understanding the relationship with the citizen and scrutiny, whilst setting up alternative, perhaps commercial vehicles. The residents need to see a clear line of sight and accountability to the decision makers.” This is particularly true in the aftermath of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. It is important for lawyers to remain connected with their communities, she says. Lawyers also have to understand the political and governance frameworks and, even more importantly, be able to manage risk, she argues. Understanding the local political environment is something that she suggests has been made more difficult by the move away from committee structures. This is linked to another challenge faced by local authority legal teams, that Binjal identifies – career development and succession planning, and not just for those with an eye on being a Director of Legal Services or Monitoring Officer. “We need to create a structure that allows both generalists and specialists to progress and be rewarded in local government,” she says. “I think for someone starting out now [in local government legal practice] it is an exciting, but also a challenging time. The budget cuts have opened doors for us to be creative and pioneering as lawyers, finding solutions and applying the law in such ways that deliver ambitious results for our councils. You can actually be a lawyer that makes a difference – supporting the public sector interest.” But the perception is still there in some quarters that the legal team are blockers rather than enablers, she admits. “There are some colleagues that still view the legal team as the ones they go to for legal advice and that’s it. Rather than going to them for help in delivering what they want to deliver, or to work together as partners because, after all, we all work for the ‘one’ council. I think that the in-house re- charging model – ‘playing internal shops’, has lost its focus – we all only have one pot of money, which is the same pot. My view is that we need to work collaboratively, also with other public sector service providers, to deliver the vision of the democratically elected leaders.” The need for local authorities and their legal teams to work more collaboratively with other councils, external partners and service providers has been an important development, according to Binjal. She believes that there is greater scope for ‘soft’ collaboration with other legal teams and private practice, rather than necessarily a need to pursue ever-larger shared legal services or alternative business structures. “I think that has gone as far as it can. There’s an appetite for people to do more, smaller collaborative working. I have used framework arrangements to have in place secondees to work alongside our in-house lawyers and together they have provided the in- house service. Explore other models to bridge the resources gap. A lot of my peers have probably said that trading has had its day – let’s think of other ways, which I think are genuine collaborative, working partnerships.”