Kent Legal Services has adopted a revised strategy aimed at delivering £1m in savings for the county council over the next 12 months alone and becoming in time a regional hub for the South East.
The process – dubbed Evolution – is also expected to lead to the launch later this year of an alternative business structure set up in conjunction with law firm Geldards.
Director of Governance and Law Geoff Wild said the target was to deliver £3m in savings to Kent County Council by 2014.
Key elements of the Evolution programme include:
- The re-evaluation of all work processes and partner relationships. This will include Kent Legal Services’ corporate alignment with the county council. The service will examine opportunities for doing things differently and at a lower cost;
- The development of an “intelligent relationship model” with its external clients. This would involve charging for advice but at the same time working with them to reduce their costs and their reliance on legal services;
- The introduction of a new case management system in the second quarter of this year. The council has whittled down potential suppliers to two;
- Changes to the staffing profile of the service, which has nearly 150 employees. The future structure will be similar to an ‘hourglass’, with senior lawyers handling work appropriate to their position and junior and administrative work pushed down to the lowest level appropriate. The middle section of lawyers will be critically evaluated. However, the hope is that any change in structure will be achieved as the service grows;
- Proactive education of clients. More than 75 hours CPD at cost will be delivered over the next year. This is also expected to produce £50,000 in savings against the current training budget;
- The pursuit of increased income and market share by growing the service’s list of external clients. The aim is to reach a situation where Kent County Council provides 60% of the practice’s income and external clients provide 40%. The current split is 80%-20%;
- A review of the county council’s spend on external legal services, which still runs into millions of pounds a year. The authority’s existing IT system has thus far made it difficult to ascertain and quantify what Kent spends on external advice.
Wild said the time had been right for a root and branch review.
“What we have been doing up until this point has been hugely successful and it has proved absolutely invaluable in allowing us to weather the early stages of the economic storms,” he argued.
“It placed us in a very favourable position compared with many of our colleagues in the public sector, who I know have been going through some very traumatic times in having budgets cut and staffing numbers reduced whilst still having to cope with ever increasing demand.”
Wild said there was nevertheless a recognition within Kent Legal Services’s new management team that the market was changing, with different players now compared to those around five years ago. He added that the service’s competitors – both in the public and the private sector – were getting increasingly hungry for the same amount of work.
“We are really excited about this project as it recognises that we have got a little bit complacent, we have got a little comfortable,” he admitted. “There’s so much more we can do – there’s a realisation of the savings we can make, the improvements we can deliver and the markets we can explore.”
On the prospective development of a regional hub, Wild said: “The South East is a very large area – you could do it on a sub-regional basis.”
KCC’s Director of Governance and Law cited Kent – with its 14 separate local authorities made up of 12 districts, one unitary and one county – purely as an example. In addition there are public sector bodies such as a police service, a fire authority, NHS trusts, ambulance services, probation, higher education establishments and so on.
“Many of these organisations have their own fairly small, incomplete and under-resourced legal departments – all struggling to make ends meet, all struggling to deliver a good service,” Wild said. “The inefficiencies that generates are so blindingly obvious that it seems incredible that we can’t all get together and recognise that our legal needs are virtually identical.”
He added: “All we need to do is pool those resources and service all our needs from a central base. We would cut out huge amounts of overhead costs and at the same time hopefully raise standards to the level of the highest.”
Wild argued that this was a simple concept but one that nobody across the country had managed really to break through. But he added: “I’m a firm believer that, if done correctly, it is the way that future public sector legal services can be better provided. It’s inevitable now that more than just tinkering around the edges won’t do any more.”
He added that he was talking about Kent not because he was targeting Kent or wanting a regional hub to be Kent-based, but simply using it as an example. “I wouldn’t want my district colleagues to be alarmed,” Wild said. “You could apply [the model] to Devon, Yorkshire, Wales and so on.”
In relation to alternative business structures, Wild said the model had now become a feasible and attractive option.
Kent Legal Services has already been working with Geldards on their Law:Public initiative, which was unveiled in February 2010.
Wild pointed out that Kent was already able to trade with most other public sector bodies under the Local Government (Goods and Services) Act 1970.
“We don’t need to set up any kind of separate vehicle or company structure to do that,” he said. “We have got the power to trade, we have got the powers to charge. We have got no restrictions of that kind from the SRA – we have plenty of other ones but not on this.”
Wild said all Kent Legal Services’ public sector work was capable of being dealt with in house, between authorities. “But to tackle the wider market, which is what we really would like to do, and work for bodies other than those permitted under the Local Government (Goods and Services) Act, we need to set up, basically, a law firm,” he added.
“We are not so naïve to think we can just do that and step right out there and the work will come flooding in – there’s a hugely competitive market out there,” Wild admitted.
But KCC’s Director of Governance and Law said that some success had been achieved with Law:Public and Geldards. “We have reached the stage with them where we are now confident enough to consider taking this relationship a step further,” he said.
“What we are thinking of doing is working with them on developing an ABS. That will take some months, to work through the SRA’s structures, but we are hoping to launch that some time later this year.”
Wild said the vehicle would not be one into which to transfer Kent’s legal work or any of its public sector work, “but to allow us to bid for and work for clients who we would otherwise be restricted from doing [work for]”.
He added that the arrangements would allow Kent Legal Services through Geldards to reach much wider geographical areas. “It’s a way of tying up our relationship with Geldards, giving us this national reach and also allowing us to explore markets that are currently restricted to us,” he said.