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What skills will you require in the future? – Local Government Lawyer in the 21st Century


by Chelsey Newsom | 22 February 2016

As the end of 2016 fast approaches, we have been exploring how the market has changed over the last 18 months, looking specifically at the type of skills that are required to be a 21st century local government lawyer. Hannah Cottam, Legal Director at Sellick Partnership, recently presented a breakout session at the LLG Annual Governance Conference held at The Guoman Hotel in London on Thursday 3rd November. The aim of the conference is to represent and promote the interest of members that are local government legal or governance officers.  When asking the question in her session “what does being a ‘21st century lawyer’ mean to you?” words such as ‘adaptable’, ‘versatile’, ‘commerciality’, ‘innovative’ and ‘tech-savvy’ arose from those participating.

I think we can all agree that with local governments being under constant financial pressure, lawyers need to be able to adapt to their surroundings and find innovative and new ways that they can continue the service they provide. It is essential lawyers can be versatile with implementation of technology and flexible when it comes to changes such as shared services and alternative business structures (ABS). As local authorities are moving to new structures such as shared services and ABS and adopt a more private practice structure of working, they require their lawyers to be able to undertake a range of skills. When recruiting to local authorities throughout the UK, we have seen an increase in the need for the following;

  • Client care skills – the ability to manage several clients at one time and build a rapport.
  • Technology – the ability to time record on case management systems/no legal support therefore efficient typing skills or the ability to confidently use different systems. 
  • Niche and specialised skills within a set legal field – There has also been a significant increase in childcare lawyers with strong advocacy skills/increase in CPO experience within planning and property roles.
  • Specialised within more than one area of law –  We have also seen a rise in the need for regeneration lawyers which require project experience and knowledge within property, planning and contracts. 

Local authorities still struggle to recruit to childcare, property, planning and contracts both on a permanent and on a locum basis. These areas of law are in constant high demand within the market and commercial roles are always in competition with private practice and in-house roles that offer a more competitive salary. I have recently been asked by authorities how we can attract the more senior candidates to these roles and it is extremely challenging when there is a shortage of experienced candidates in the market. There is a real need for skilled regeneration lawyers as legal teams start to build new teams in their legal department for this area. This is a skill that local authorities are seeking in the 21st century, where the specialism does not necessarily exist within local government lawyers as work may have been outsourced. However, this does not necessarily mean that lawyers already working in local government are not fully capable of offering this skillset. 
Client retention can be difficult, especially within the public sector. With these areas of law that are difficult to recruit to, sometimes clients can focus too much on experience and PQE, however this is limiting the talent pool available to them. I would strongly advise local authorities to consider those with lesser PQE as these candidates be an investment in the long-term and it may be that these skills can be developed and will ultimately lead to a highly skilled lawyer that is committed to the organisation. 

To create a 21st century lawyer within local government with the required skill set needed, time needs to be invested in these candidates to assist organisations in fulfilling their consist pending needs in the areas above.

To further discuss the skills you need to become as 21st century or for assistance with your recruitment strategy please contact me on 0161 834 1642 or email chelsey.newsom@sellickpartnership.co.uk. Alternatively, browse our latest roles