The seemingly inexorable rise of the shared legal service has been one of the dominant themes of recent years for local government practice.
And the headline deals keep on coming. In January this year approval was given for the four-borough tie-up that will see the departments at the London boroughs of Sutton and Kingston join the existing shared service at Merton and Richmond councils later this year.
Only a few months before, in the autumn of 2012, there was the launch of HB Public, formed out of the teams at Harrow and Barnet. The combined operation has already embarked on a significant recruitment drive, at a time when most teams are facing a hiring freeze at best and some are being forced to cut staff numbers.
Further deals are in the offing. Northampton Borough Council, for example, is billed to become part of LGSS Law, the combination between Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire county councils.
Shared services have, of course, taken an almost bewildering array of different forms, ranging from the fully integrated operations like HB Public Law to looser, more ‘virtual’ arrangements such as the South West Wales Legal Consortium.
Equally, there have been some high-profile examples of proposed deals that have foundered on the rocks.
This supplement has been put together to look at the key issues and the reasons why some teams are enthusiastically embracing shared services while others view them as a bridge too far.
It contains the results of a management survey we conducted among heads of legal in the latter half of last year. There is a report on a roundtable of senior lawyers hosted in association with Kennedy Cater in January, held under ‘Chatham House rules’ so as to allow the free exchange of views.
We also have interviews with the management team running the joint service at Manchester and Salford city councils, and with the leadership and partner firms behind the North West Legal Consortium.
The next two to three years will be intriguing to say the least. How many more deals are there to come? Will we see significant expansion of existing shared services? Will a shared legal service fall apart if the hoped-for benefits fail to materialise?
This is not to mention the prospect of a shared service or a local authority legal department obtaining alternative business structure status. That really does seem a case of when, rather than if, it will happen. As always, Local Government Lawyer will be looking to be the first to bring you news of these developments.
Philip Hoult, Editor, Local Government Lawyer