The dividing line between private practice and public legal services providers is blurring again with Harrow and Barnet councils unveiling a new partnership with Bevan Brittan as the two local authorities become the first to apply for an alternative business structure (ABS) licence.
Harrow and Barnet councils, which came together in September last year to create HB Public Law (HBPL) and already provide services a small number of other local authorities, will work in a joint venture with Bevan Brittan to offer combined legal services to both existing and new public services clients, drawing on complementary resources from both sides.
Legal Business 100 firm Bevan Brittan lays claim to being the largest specialist provider of commercial legal services to the public services market in the UK, with a client base that includes a third of all NHS Trusts, all local authorities, 30 housing associations, and over 100 private companies that service the public sector.
The joint venture – as yet unnamed – plans to expand the combined client-base to include health services organisations, housing associations and public services charity organisations.
Bevan Brittan has also advised HBPL in its application to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to become an ABS – the first local authority body to do so. A response is expected in the New Year.
Hugh Peart (pictured), director of law and governance at Harrow LBC and director of HBPL said: ‘We selected [Bevan Brittan] to work with us as it demonstrated a profound understanding of the fast-changing legal market and the mutual opportunities this offered our legal teams. We feel we have similar values as organisations working in the public services arena.’
Bethan Evans, senior partner of Bevan Brittan and lead partner on the partnership project, said: ‘We are so pleased to have been appointed as HBPL’s partner. We feel that we share with colleagues at HBPL a vision about future changes in the legal market and the opportunities this will generate.
‘We are excited about creating a really different way of working and providing legal services to mutual clients. We have supported HBPL in making its ground-breaking application to the SRA for the first local authority owned ABS and we are really keen to turn all the ideas into new ways of working.’
HBPL is not, however, the first public sector body to enter into a joint venture with a law firm. In 2010, Kent Legal Services (KLS), the now 125-strong team led by general counsel (GC) at Kent County Council Geoff Wild, partnered with Midlands-based private practice Geldards to create Law:Public, which offers flexible resources to around 340 public sector clients nationwide.
The partnership came after the council, which had already been selling legal services to local authorities for around ten years, aimed at further extending its geographical reach and the range of services. Its profits together with £1.3m in efficiency savings means KLS has contributed £3.7m to the council in the last year.
When interviewed earlier this year, Wild said that KLS would consider setting up an ABS in order to team up with a non-legal partner to create a new business vehicle.