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Alternative careers in and around the law

Local government

There are around 4,693 solicitors working in 400 local authorities in England and Wales, according to the latest Law Society report. The size of the authority determines whether there’s a legal department, and if so, how many lawyers are employed.

The legal services section is expected to provide a range of legal advice including housing, planning, environment and welfare. In addition, the drafting of agreements with outside contractors will be the responsibility of the in-house legal teamwork, which has been on the increase since the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering.

Despite years of cuts in funding and increased pressure from central government, even relatively small councils still employ thousands of individuals and have huge budgets. As a result, there’s plenty of legal work created by a council's everyday activities.

What’s the role?

The workload of the local government lawyer isn’t too different from that of many of their counterparts in private practice. There’s a wide range of work to be done and many lawyers will increasingly specialise as their careers develop.

However, one major difference is that like their counterparts in industry, the local government legal team will be far more proactive in the formulation of proposed policies than those in private practice law firms.

The opportunities for management, both legal and general, are well established. Indeed, the role of the senior solicitor (or county secretary) within local government is similar to that performed by a company secretary.

Training in local government

There are training contracts available in local government, but competition is strong, and the application process is rigorous. The Solicitors Regulation Authority carries a list of those authorities that are authorised to take on trainees.

Why be a local government lawyer?

The opportunity of working in a political environment with a sense of community service and clear management potential appeals to many people, not just lawyers. The range of legal work that the local government legal section will undertake makes for a stimulating and lively workplace.

Many lawyers decide to follow this path early on and do their training within a local authority legal section, going on to full careers within councils. Others may come after training at a law firm, having decided on a public sector career over those offered by private practice.

Working in this sector also offers a flexibility that few other areas of the law can offer, with (for instance) much easier access to part-time positions throughout the career. 

Career path

Training within a local government legal department doesn’t limit your career choices. A move into private practice isn’t uncommon, nor is a switch into industry. Those with managerial skills may move easily into senior positions in councils, while the opportunities to specialise in many different areas of law are good.

How to apply

Jobs are advertised in the legal press and the national newspapers, and on the Local Government Lawyer or the Lawyers in Local Government website.