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SLG and ACSeS give green light to merger plan

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Solicitors in Local Government (SLG) and the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (ACSeS) last week formally backed plans for a merger.

The new body – to be called Lawyers in Local Government – will be launched at the Weekend School in March 2013.

Mark Hynes, Director of Legal and Democratic Services at the London Borough of Lambeth, is set to become the organisation's first president. The vice-president will be Philip Thomson, County Solicitor at Essex County Council.

ACSeS president Philip McCourt of Milton Keynes Council and SLG chair Bev Cullen of Lancashire County Council have agreed to continue in their current roles until the merger is finalised.

Stressing the importance of local government lawyers speaking with a single voice, McCourt said: “There always has been a view amongst ourselves of local government as one family and that the ideal position is that when an issue comes up – with central government or another body or within ourselves – we should be in control of developing our own best practice, that we can say ‘this is the way we think things should be done’.

"When government wants to talk to someone, we should be able to turn around and say ‘this is what the legal profession governance bodies feel should be delivered’. We have had somewhat artificial barriers in the past.”

Describing the votes as “a great day for the profession”, Thomson said: “There has been for a long period of time a void of representation of lawyers in local government. ACSeS is there representing local government from the perspective of chief officers and deputy chief officers, but it cannot represent the entire perspective of the profession.”

The new organisation will therefore reach out to other legal professionals – such as barristers and legal executives – working in the sector.

Lambeth’s Hynes said: “These lawyers form quite a considerable part of the profession. For example, my head of legal services at Lambeth is a legal executive, but could not be a member of SLG. You can’t be truly representative of lawyers in local government when there has been this disenfranchisement of so many.”

SLG chair Cullen agreed that greater inclusiveness would be one of the major advantages of the merged organisation. “With what is happening in private practice and the establishment of alternative business structures, it has to be the right way to go,” she added.

Cullen highlighted the special interest groups, networks and training organised by the SLG as one of its key strengths and said these would continue in Lawyers in Local Government.

The new organisation will be funded by local authority subscriptions, rather than fees paid by individual lawyers.

Hynes said: “For the new organisation to be sustainable, we have got to ensure that it is run on a sure footing. We have tried to make this as cost neutral as possible with an honest appraisal of what the costs running would be. They will be lower than the aggregate costs of SLG and ACSeS by about 25%.”

He added that the new organisation would look to offer a range of added value services to its members.

Essex's Thomson said he wanted to see a focus in the new organisation on development of legal services. "It will be vital for us to do that because that is always something that is important to the majority of people working in legal services. It's all about their careers and development opportunities."

Informal discussions about merging ACSeS and SLG had been held previously over a number of years. However, these talks were given added impetus by the Law Society’s decision to withdraw recognised group status from SLG and end funding from 28 February 2013.

Chancery Lane has launched an ‘In-House Division’ to support the employed sector, including local government.

Lambeth’s Hynes said the new organisation’s relationship with the Law Society was critical and serious consideration would be given to how this worked going forwards.