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Paying dividends

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Training iStock 000010594159XSmall 146x219Elizabeth Warhurst, Head of Legal and Support Services at North West Leicestershire District Council, explains how she teamed up with law firm Browne Jacobson to deliver an innovative recruitment model to help shape a newly qualified solicitor into a public sector asset.

In summer 2011 we went out to recruit to our vacant Contracts and Procurement Solicitor post, to support the council with its day to day needs and specifically to assist with our housing service’s £36m Decent Homes Investment Programme (one of the largest procurements we have ever undertaken). After previous recruitments had yielded no suitable candidates, I decided to take a different tack. Instead of searching for a fully formed lawyer, I decided we should ‘grow our own’ and enlisted Browne Jacobson’s Government and Infrastructure Team to help.

Together, we developed a recruitment model whereby a newly qualified solicitor with the right personal qualities could join the team and develop quickly into the lawyer the council needed, in line with the council’s Best Employee Experience programme. The programme focuses on recruiting staff with the right behavioural qualities, which puts people at the heart of what we do. Technical skills and competencies can be developed, but candidates must possess the right qualities as the foundation for their development. With the support of our Corporate Leadership Team, we pushed forward.

For Legal Services, the successful candidate would be supervised in-house on a day-to-day basis, including in relation to corporate governance and democratic processes, while being mentored by a partner at Browne Jacobson in relation to contracts and commercial agreements and the public procurement process. A timetable of training and shadowing was put in place. Craig Elder, partner at Browne Jacobson, joined us in shortlisting and interviewing candidates for the post.

In September 2011, Sam McGinty joined the team as a newly qualified solicitor from private practice. Sam settled into our team well and worked closely in person and remotely with Craig’s team to ensure that his work was of the highest standard. Sam became independent of the mentoring in spring 2012. In 2013, Sam completed the Law Society’s Diploma in Local Government Law and Practice and with the support of his colleagues here at the council and contacts at Browne Jacobson, Sam achieved a Distinction. He was awarded Leicestershire Law Society’s Young Solicitor of the Year award and appointed to the board of Lawyers in Local Government. He is the first to say that he could not have achieved all this without the support and guidance of his colleagues.

The relationship between North West Leicestershire District Council and Browne Jacobson has helped to form a highly competent ‘home grown solicitor’, who is sensitive to both the political and commercial needs of the council. Commercialisation is high on our agenda and we are continuing to provide legal work for external bodies, smashing through our service’s income targets for the 2012/13 financial year.

Following the success of this model, we applied it to the recruitment of our Planning Solicitor, Vanessa Blane. Although an experienced solicitor in her own right, Vanessa’s experience was in other fields and we partnered with another regional firm to offer help and support to Vanessa while she entered the world of planning.

We are now recruiting to a new Trainee Solicitor post and will be using a similar model, where our trainee will undertake a seat of their training contract with Browne Jacobson, alongside the firm’s own trainees. This will help them to gain broader experience and commercial skills which will be invaluable for their work with our internal and external clients and help to shape them into the commercial local authority lawyer we need.

This innovative approach to recruiting lawyers demonstrates how well the public sector can work with the private sector and both North West Leicestershire District Council and Browne Jacobson are continuing to work together to our mutual advantage.

Elizabeth Warhurst is Head of Legal and Support Services at North West Leicestershire District Council.

The council is also hiring a Principal Solicitor - Regulatory and Enforcement. For more information on this role, click here.