What its like to work as an in house local authority lawyer: what I loved

For many, New Year is a time for reflection and 2021 has certainly been an eventful year. As regular readers of this blog will know, 2021 is also the year I left local authority and took a private practice role. It’s been nearly 6 months since then and I am (probation period dependant) settling into my new role for at least the medium term.

So today I am going to talk about the bits of my in-house role that I really liked. Because in the legal field, at least, working in local authority is seen as a bit of a ‘fall-back’ option, rather than an option lawyers enthusiastically pursue. Its where we ‘end up’.

But there are a lot of perks. Flexi-time, for one. Enhanced holiday and sick pay. A decent pension. All of these are good things and for many people these are very attractive. But everyone knows about those perks, so I’m not going to dwell on them.

For me, what I really enjoyed was the sense of camaraderie I got from working every day alongside social care teams. When you all work for the same organisation, you all face the same pressures, which in local authority usually come from tightening budgets. But when you are all ‘in the same boat’, you are (most of the time at least) all working together and can help each other. When a crisis happens people ‘muck in’, and that really helped me through a lot of very stressful days.

There is also a different dynamic within the legal team compared to a more commercial based organisation. Because in local authority the pay rate is the pay rate, people tend to be much less competitive. There isn’t a drive to prove you are the best in the team to get that bonus, or a salary increase, because there is no such thing. Even opportunities to apply for a step up tend to be limited because managers are usually in post for a while. And that makes it easy to ask for help, and for teams to work together quite effectively.

What I really enjoyed was the variety of work I used to deal with in local authority: every day really was a school day. Most of the time I would be dealing with Court of Protection cases, or helping navigate through the Care Act when there was a tricky case. But then a query would come in about blue badge eligibility, or a disagreement with the housing authority, or even the odd civil litigation matter where the amounts paid for someone’s care were disputed by the care provider. Heck, I recall spending at least a day trying to work out what to do with someone’s dog that had been placed in kennels when they went into hospital and forgotten about until a year after the owner died!

This level of variety certainly isn’t a positive for everybody, but it was for me.

Another aspect of the job which was a perk for me, but it wouldn’t be for everyone, is that I got to deal with challenging work even as a junior member of the team. I can’t speak for other local authorities, but when I started at mine as a trainee there wasn’t a specialist adult social care lawyer. There were member of the team that dealt with some parts of social care law: debts, and Court of Protection, for example. But the rest of it came to me, since I was good at research and had more time to look into issues. When the Care Act 2014 came in, I was only a few months qualified but I was reviewing all of the policies and practice guidance. Thankfully I wasn’t alone at that point though.

I love a challenge, so really enjoyed that element of the job. For a long time, that kept me motivated.

Fundamentally, I got into law because I wanted to help people. Now for some, local authority might not seem like the logical choice and I did get a few comments about being on the ‘wrong side’. But local authorities are usually trying to help people, even if they don’t always go about it the right way. So the work I did reviewing policies, as well as providing training and working through complex cases had quite a wide impact. Rather than helping individuals, I was giving the local authority the tools to help many people. Which is what held me in the local authority longer than was probably good for me

Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but we’ll talk about negatives next time.

In case it isn’t obvious from the fact I still haven’t identified the authority I used to work for, or the organisation I now work for, the views expressed on this blog are my own opinion and not the opinion of either that local authority or organisation

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