What it’s like to work as an in house local authority lawyer: what I didn’t like

This is not a bitter confessional from a disgruntled employee, but it is only fair to acknowledge some of the challenges of working in local authority as an adult social care lawyer. I don’t work there anymore, so if I couldn’t give some negatives, you’d just assume I was lying!

I spoke in my earlier post about dealing with complex work as a trainee and newly qualified lawyer. The downside of that was that I never really felt like I had a safety net. It was very much ‘sink or swim’ for me. Initially it was exciting, but when the stakes got high, I began to feel very vulnerable. Don’t get me wrong, I was ‘supervised’ but always by someone whose experience was in a different area of law. So if I could explain my reasoning, my manager would just agree with me. So I would often find myself in high level meetings, very much the lowest person on the totem pole, knowing that if something went wrong, I was probably going to get the blame. I never had to test whether my managers would support me when the proverbial hit the fan. But given that managers in local authority are often pretty astute politicians, I never really wanted to find out.

Which leads me to the number 1 thing that I do not miss about working in local authority: politics. In my role I often had to deal with actual politicians, which was not fun. They do not take the word ‘no’ well.

But even when not dealing with politics, I was still dealing with politics. Layers upon layers of it. From worrying about public perception and the impact of one case on countless others, to concerns about press interest and complaints. Then there was interdepartmental politics due to constant worries about budgets being cut if certain departments weren’t kept on side. There was the threat of legal being outsourced every couple of years, as well. In addition to just general office politics. It was exhausting.

There were layers of bureaucracy to navigate too. For the slightest change of approach, approvals were needed from multiple people, few of whom would regularly check their emails. And each would have slightly different questions, and need things written up in a different way. Any time I wanted to do something different, it would be reminiscent of the Vogons from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or that scene from Twelve Tasks of Asterix (if you know, you know).

This had the added effect of slowing down any kind of change. Local Authorities have the turning circle of a super-tanker. So if you are looking to affect some positive change, which I was, it takes a lot of patience and it is incredibly hard to keep momentum up for months, or even years.

Especially when working against the backdrop of budget cuts and staff shortages. Morale is often low, which can lead to people being disillusioned. So most people end up ‘going with the flow’ for their own sanity. For those that don’t, burn out and fatigue are a very real risk.

For lawyers, specifically, in-house work can be grating. We’re programmed to want to fix things, and driven to want to stand out. But local authorities don’t want to be involved in reported cases, which is a bit at odds with lawyers trying to build reputations. As for trying to fix things, well, we had to learn to take small victories where we can find them.

It wasn’t dreadful, after all, I spent 8 years there. But, like any job, it’s about weighing up the pros and cons. I miss parts of my job, and some of the people I worked with, but my new job isn’t perfect either. Swings and roundabouts, ey?

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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