Saturday, 14 November 2009

Hackney's legal team - 25% under-staffed 50% outsourced?

It's great that Hackney's new (Feb 2009) head of legal services Gifty Edila has gone public with the changes she's making to the department. But the numbers thrown around in a recent article published in the The Lawyer suggest that the borough's legal services might have been in an odd state before she arrived.

But anything that draws attention to Hackney's legal services could be a good thing. In April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.

In a recent article about Edila The Lawyer said her department was "60-strong" but also said that it had "20 vacancies looking to be filled". I don't know if this means that Hackney's legal department is supposed to be 60-strong or 80-strong but, in either case, the department is 25-33% under-staffed.

The same article in the Lawyer said: "With a legal budget of £6m there is plenty of work to be done, although Edila is keen to farm a slightly higher level of work out to external law firms and chambers.

“We’re now about 90 per cent internal,” she says. “We were out with quite a significant volume previously – about 50 per cent. That started coming in-house before I joined. Big projects do demand support from outside and I’m reviewing our external panel of barristers and the solicitors we use. The balance should be about 80:20.”

So it is possible that the legal department was 25% under-staffed and farming out 50% of its work to an expensive panel of private firms?

Hopefully all this was part of clever plan to hire the best/most expensive lawyers so that Hackney didn't lose out in any of its Olympic related contracts. Or was the department suffering during this important time?

This is not a criticism of Edila who does seem to be aiming to cut costs (from The Lawyer: "Edila is looking to get better value for money from the barristers she uses and is looking to revamp a panel that was put in place at the authority in 2006). Edila has a history of aiming for an 80:20% split in work (or is that the budget?) - as per this 2005 article in The Lawyer: "Traditionally, the borough (Kensington and Chelsea, where she was head of legal services) would have simply recruited more staff to manage the project, but, says Edila, this would be squeezing the seams. So she persuaded the council that it was more efficient in the long run to turn to external advisers. Berwin Leighton Paisner picked up the mandate for Exhibition Road. DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary and Herbert Smith are also currently engaged on K&C projects: the former has picked up the mandate for the redevelopment of Holland Park School, while the latter is advising on the development of Ellesmere, a new residential home.

"Going to external solicitors for those three projects is a new thing here," says Edila, "but I'd say that about 80 per cent of work remains in-house."

Hackney legal teams merged into two sections:

In April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.

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