The remit of a local government solicitor
Local Government Law – Solicitors
The conduct of government, both local and national, is governed by a set of rules regarding how it can finance itself, take its decisions, become appointed and how long for. Wherever there is a large and complex set of laws, there will inevitably be solicitors as well.
Local government solicitors are the people that ensure that local government stays within the boundaries set down by the law in its day to day operation, while also protecting the organisations from legal challenges made against it. There are currently somewhere in the region of 4,000 local government solicitors working for hundreds of legal departments across the country. The size of individual legal departments will depend on the size of the local authority itself.
Solicitors who are working for local government will be expected to provide legal counsel and legal services in the areas of welfare, planning, housing and the environment. Local government works with a large range of private actors and other organisations and there will need to be legally sound agreements and contracts drawn up so that these actors don’t get into complex and damaging legal disputes. Everything the local government authority does on a daily basis, from the provision of services to the settling of disputes, is tightly regulated by the law, so the amount of work for local government solicitors is potentially huge.
The actual day to day workload of a local government solicitor is essentially not overly dissimilar from that of any other legal professional. The one major difference is the connection to the formulation of policy that does not exist in private law firms. Being close to the officials who are charge of carrying legislation and government policy by adapting it to local circumstances continually throws up quite complex legal issues surrounding equality, fairness, issues of definition and of funding. Another difference is the possible career development paths a local government solicitor can take. Many end up in roles that involve managerial duties and in fact resemble the duties of a company secretary.
For many solicitors the idea of working within a political environment and being inherently involved in the smooth running and operation of local government is an exciting prospect. These solicitors generally receive their full training within local authorities, before receiving their full employment within councils.
It should be noted, however, that after the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering local; government solicitors must compete for local authority contracts with private legal firms. Some argue that this puts local government solicitors at a disadvantage because local government is their only client, while private law firms have the resources that come from offering a wide range of services to a variety of private clients. The reality of the situation has so far proved that local government solicitor’s experience has meant that they have maintained the majority of their workload, while the more ‘low grade’ jobs such as debt collection have been outsourced.
Becoming a local government solicitor can be a difficult and stressful, just as all things that are ultimately rewarding usually do.