Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom

 (Thanks to Anselm Kiefer "Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom" , 2000)

"Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land." So said Chairman Mao in 1957, on which the misquotation above is based.

I'm not sure Mao would be happy with his phrase being used in conjunction with new forms of legal practice about to emerge from the chrysalis of the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA). (Apologies for mangling metaphors...) In the last two days I have been listening to the Legal Services Board talk about what is to happen. This is in part because they have published a new business plan, which I urge you to read.

The first talk at Bevan Brittan was aimed at local government lawyers and how they could exploit the potential of the LSA. Two factors are at play here: a desire by councils to get value from their legal departments and a bigger desire to cut costs in the financial crisis. At present in house lawyers are restricted in who they can do work for--who's the client? But there are gaps in the rules and Kent County Council has been exploiting them in entrepreneurial ways by mixing public and private clients and creating extra revenue, and acting as consultants to other councils which want to follow them.

However, once Alternative Business Structures enter the market in 2011, then local government departments will be free to organize themselves how they like. One possibility would be for the local councils in a county to hive off their legal departments and set them up in a wholly-owned company that would do work for the county local authorities and could market its services to other councils also. They could even form joint ventures with law firms and legal process outsourcing companies. But, of course, they wouldn't necessarily be restricted to working for councils: they could take on the private legal sector and compete directly with them.

They would also be able to work with not for profits to provide legal services that private firms would tend to avoid.

As Chris Kenny, the CEO of the Legal Services Board, put it, the regulatory framework is to encourage innovation and widen access to the legal services market. So it will be interesting to see how sectors other than the private one begin to deploy themselves in the new legal market.
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