Jayne Francis-Ward | Lead Authority, EM LawShare
Project name: EMLawShare
Objectives: To create a value-for-money partnership arrangement with private legal firms
Timescale: 2006 – present; set-up time of nine months
Cost: Initial set-up including the website was £10,000
Council staff working on delivery: Small management panel of six individuals from member authorities, meeting quarterly
Outcomes: Estimated savings in excess of £10m across the life of the arrangements to date.
About 12 years ago, I had a light bulb moment. I’d just listened to concerns from a colleague in the children’s department about the fact that we had put a matter out to a private sector law firm.
My colleague was concerned because they didn’t know the individual at the firm dealing with the matter and while they recognised the firm would do a good legal job, they wanted more than that. They wanted that feeling of teamwork that they had developed with their in-house legal colleagues and if work had to go out to a private firm, they wanted it to cost less.
It struck me that it was possible to solve both these concerns and maybe get what I rather grandly described in the subsequent tender documentation as some ‘added value’. For those of you who are not members of EMLawShare, ‘added value’ is perhaps more commonly known as ‘freebies’.
I approached other authorities in the East Midlands to see if they were interested in jointly tendering for a private sector firm to join us in a very loose partnership arrangement. I always wanted it to be more than a simple call-off contract. The basis of the arrangement was that the firms who worked with us would be an extension of the in-house legal department. They would be as familiar to our colleagues as the in-house legal team was, and as we were buying in bulk, we expected lower rates than obtained by a simple spot purchase.
Thirteen local authorities started on this journey and we advertised our ménage a treize, asking private sector firms if they wanted to get into bed with us. They did, in sizeable numbers. So EMLawShare was born.
So why is it news now? In early April, Coventry City Council joined the EMLawShare arrangements, becoming the hundredth public body to join. We are the largest legal consortium of public bodies in the country. It’s no longer just councils that are part of the arrangements; it’s fire and rescue services, health organisations and arm’s-length housing companies to name but a few.
There was a risk that as we grew we would lose sight of the basic principle on which EMLawShare was founded; the partnership ethos that has proved to be so valuable. We haven’t and in fact it’s better than ever.
Despite the huge growth in membership we have stuck to a limited number of partner firms. We now have six: Freeths, Browne Jacobson, Bevan Brittan, Weightmans, Geldards and Sharpe Pritchard. They don’t just work with us; they work with each other, just as the member authorities do. It’s no longer just an easy way of accessing reasonably priced external legal support; it’s a huge networking arrangement. It’s not just the private sector firms who are extensions of our own in-house teams, its other in-house teams, supporting each other on common legal issues.
What happened to those freebies, I hear you say? Well, that really is the icing on the cake. We have an annual training programme delivered by both the partner firms and the member organisations, often jointly, on a variety of issues from legal training to roundtable discussions to management skills. We have recently developed our own precedent bank. A quarterly newsletter with updates and case studies on recent decisions, telephone advice when sounding out an issue, a website that acts as a knowledge hub as well as a communications link, a regular conference and secondments of staff. The list goes on – and it’s all free.
It’s worked really well but don’t take my word for it; ask the other 99 organisations who joined. We are stronger together.
Jayne Francis-Ward, corporate director of resources, Nottinghamshire CC