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What skills will local government lawyers need in the 21st Century

by Chelsey Newsom | 16 July 2019

Are you a public sector lawyer and wondering what skills you should be concentrating on in order to be a success in the 21st Century? Chelsey Newsom, Manager and legal recruitment expert gives us some insight into the skills her clients often look for in local government lawyers. She offers her advice on what skills clients should be looking for in candidates, what skills candidates should be developing and how local government can ensure they are attracting and retaining the best legal talent on the market.

The legal recruitment market is constantly evolving which can be challenging for candidates trying to keep up. As a result the role of a lawyer in any sector is becoming increasingly difficult and my legal clients are constantly looking for candidates with niche skillsets that have relevant and adaptable soft skills. As we move further into the 21st century this need will only grow, and lawyers will need to ensure their skills and knowledge are up-to-date. In this blog I look at some of the skills that are currently in highest demand, and how I think the role of the lawyer will continue to evolve.

It is very evident that local government are under constant financial pressures, especially as there is little clarity on where organisations funding will come from in 2020. Candidates therefore need to be able to adapt to certain surroundings and find innovative ways that they can continue to the service they provide. Local government lawyers need to be versatile and flexible to be able to manage the changes happening in the sector such as shared services, alternative business structures (ABS) and the implementation of new technology across the sector.

Skills in demand with local government

As local authorities move towards new structures such as shared services and ABS and adopt a way of working similar to that in private practice, they require their lawyers to be able to undertake a range of skills. As a result we have seen an increase in the need for the following skills when recruiting to local authorities across the UK:

  • Client care skills – the ability to manage several clients at one time and build a rapport is becoming essential for any candidate looking to secure a legal role within local government. As pressure increases, lawyers need to be able to work with multiple clients, and effectively manage their expectations whilst delivering the highest level of service. For that reason we often look for legal candidates that have experience in, or show skills in stakeholder management.  
  • Technology – technology is constantly changing with the legal sector, and as a result candidates need to be able to learn new systems and adapt. The ability to record key information on case management systems with little to no legal support is often required in local government, therefore efficient typing skills and the ability to confidently use different platforms is essential. Candidates also need to be able to adapt to new technology as and when it is introduced. As the sector continues to evolve, and more technology is introduced to local government, this will become an even more important skillset to have.
  • Niche and specialised skills within a set legal field – generally lawyers will specialise in a key area of law, so having expert insights and knowledge of your chosen sector is essential. Our clients are also often asking for candidates that have very specific skills, so it is important to know what niche skills may be important within your chosen sector. For example, there has been a significant increase in childcare lawyers with strong advocacy skills and an increase in CPO and development experience within planning and property roles.
  • Experience within more than one area of law – candidates who are able to gain experience in multiple areas of law will always be in high demand. We have seen a significant change in the market where the demand for litigation lawyers does not just require housing or civil but clients needing lawyers to be versatile so that they are able to pick up any level or type of work in small teams such as districts or boroughs. There is also a greater need for candidates to be able to conduct advocacy in more than one area of litigation to enable a cost saving exercise to try and reduce spend to external barristers or practice. We have also recently seen a rise in the need for regeneration lawyers, but clients are asking that these candidates possess skills in project experience and knowledge within property, planning and contracts. This gives lawyers with experience in any of these areas an opportunity to develop further and gain work in a different area of law.

Adapting skills to remain successful within local government

It is not always skills that lawyers need to think about to remain successful in local government. Legal professionals should also be aware of the market, adapt and look at where their skills may be transferable. For example, many local authorities still struggle to recruit for childcare, property, planning and contract positions 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.

There is also a real need for skilled regeneration lawyers. This is a relatively new area of law for local government, and a skill that is increasingly in high demand. There may be lawyers already in local government that have the skillset to deliver these projects, so it is worthwhile considering these roles and looking as to whether your skills are transferable.

Local government hiring managers should rethink their approach to recruitment

Client retention is also very difficult, especially within the public sector. Within the areas of law that are most difficult to recruit to, clients often focus too much on experience and post qualified experience (PQE), however this is limiting the talent pool available to them. I would strongly advise local authorities to consider those with less PQE as these candidates can be an investment in the long-term and it may be that these skills can be developed which will ultimately lead to a highly skilled lawyer that is committed to the organisation.

Finally, if local government organisations want to attract, train and retain future legal talent, they need to invest time in the candidates they employ. Many legal candidates we work with have the right soft skills, but without adequate training within a key area or organisation they cannot grow or flourish.

To further discuss the skills you need to be a successful lawyer in the 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 here.