Local Government lawyer Richard Ivory spoke to Blake Morgan as part of our In-house Insights series and shone a light on challenges and the power of networking.
Blake Morgan’s business forum, Counsel+ is designed specifically for in-house counsel and as part of this we are running a series of interviews with in-house lawyers.
Richard is the Director of Governance, Legal and HR for Southampton, Fareham and Havant Legal Services Partnership and works with Blake Morgan’s local authority specialist, Penny Rinta-Suksi. He spoke to Penny and gave a fascinating glimpse into life as an in-house lawyer for local government, overcoming challenges and how he works effectively with his team and external lawyers.
What drives you?
It was always going to be a career in local government for Richard, following in his mother’s footsteps. He said: “It’s always been local government for me. My mother worked in local government. It’s just been very interesting and very rewarding. I enjoy serving the community.”
The reason for staying in that area of work is the variety and responsability it provides. As well as now being a senior lawyer, he classes himself as a project manager.
“It’s the variety. You’re given a lot of remit if you’re capable,” explained Richard.
“From very early on, I was able to be an advocate before the courts because there’s special rules for local authority officers way before I qualified as a solicitor. That’s quite empowering to be honest and really gives you a head start. You really feel like you are going places.
“I’ve worked at numerous authorities and obviously I’m at Southampton now, but it’s Southampton and Fareham and Havant. We’ve got a tripartite partnership, that is quite a commercial legal setup. The variety of work we deal with is everything that a private practice deals with.
“It is a cliché but no two days are the same, not least working with senior politicians.”
Richard leads a legal team the size of a decent private practice that covers a variety of different areas on the south coast, of which the political leadership has varied over time. However, he prides himself on the fact that his political preferences have never been known by those in office at the time.
“We’ve got different masters, different clients and despite the varied work there’s always an overarching layer of politics, but nobody know my politics,” he remarked.
The wind of change blows through local authorities and means that they have to be able to adapt.
“Political direction can change like the weather so we’ve got to be very fleet-footed,” stated Richard. “You have got to keep politicians on-side without being a politician yourself. You have to adapt to situations and politics – the business plan and goals can change instantaneously.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, that was a prime example of needing to adapt quickly. Richard commented: “Covid affected everybody but local authorities were right in the middle, front and centre of it to the local community and businesses. Delivering things still in really weird circumstances. Suddenly our whole business plan had to change. What we were doing went out of the window. We still had to deliver everything to the community, but in a completely different way. That was crucial for the community. That was incredibly challenging.”
How do you take on these challenges?
Richard cited his wide range of expertise, team and external lawyers. He said: “I think not being a specialist is good in my role. I have my specialisms and a wide knowledge of the 700 services we run. I don’t know 700 services inside out, but I know how most of them run and the law involved in most of them but some bits are incredibly niche.
Elected members are very demanding, they expect positive answers. I don't always know them but I know who knows the answer and how to be very positive in my approach and crucially, proactive.
One thing elected members don't like is reactive or negative lawyers. We have to be proactive and you've got to find answers. You've got to be adept at being quite fleet of foot and practical.
He added: “There are certain specialisms or a skill-set we don’t have and sometimes it is capacity, especially for the larger projects. Hence our relationship with Blake Morgan.
Working with outside lawyers
Having that connection with an outside firm of lawyers is crucial for Richard to be able to trust in their advice and that they work well together with his team. “Having the right fit with an external firm is so important.
“You have got to know the partner you will be working with, you have got to now the junior you will be working with. You’ve got to have a rapport with them. You have got to understand where each other are coming from. Some firms, some barristers can be a bit distanced shall we say. Building that relationship is so important.”
He added: “You go to them [outside firms] for urgency, for specialisms, or for capacity but with all of those things it’s important to have that connection. You can bounce ideas off external counsel as well. There might also be a political reason for me to instruct. We’ve got a lot of cross sector experience and knowledge in our team but sometimes something is just so sensitive that it is politic to go and get counsel’s opinion, who will no doubt say exactly what I’ve said already, but it’s the external validation sometimes.”
How does networking help?
“Networking really is quite powerful,” remarked Richard. “Local authorities are generally not in competition with each other. It’s a club. In the same club we generally all work together, we’ve all got the same problems. If somebody’s come across a problem, we tend to share it so that networking part is so important.”
However, in-person events understandably stopped with Covid and are not as common as they were before the pandemic, which is something that Richard bemoaned. “We hardly talk to each other anymore face to face and that’s not very positive.
“Things like Counsel+ and networking meetings still have a real part to play.
“Maybe people are so busy they’ve got no time but I think it’s a great investment of time if you can, because you might circumvent a significant problem very quickly by talking to a colleague.”
The Counsel+ in-house lawyer forum
Counsel+ is an in-house lawyer forum, aimed at general counsel and the in-house community, find out more about it here and sign up to our mailing list to ensure you do not miss out on exclusive invitations to roundtable events, thought provoking webinars, and the latest developments.
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