In comparison with most areas of law, local government lawyers need access to an exceptionally wide range of materials. The bills, statutes, statutory instruments and policy and guidance documents which affect council activity is endless and constantly changing.
There is also the European dimension to be addressed. But covering the legal issues is only a part of the job. Providing an effective in-house legal service entails understanding what is happening in other local authorities as well as with central government.
LGCnet, LGC's online news and information service, aims to keep local government professionals on the ball. It has been in operation for more than four years, but a redeveloped service was launched earlier this year and more than a third of all local authorities now subscribe. LGCnet provides up-to-the minute news and views from a wide variety of sources, and reinforces this with individual policy sections that include essential background documents and other resources.
The downside of the net is that there is so much information, a great deal of it worthless, that there is a real danger of 'information overload' and too much to distract you from the task in hand. And not everyone is a natural computer enthusiast. This is where LGCnet can help.
LGCnet includes a section specifically tailored to the needs of local authority lawyers. It includes news stories about significant cases, links to House of Lords decisions and European Court of Justice judgments, the text of recent Bills, statutes and statutory instruments, papers produced by government departments, ombudsman summaries and much more.
For the inexperienced user, the lawyer 'channel' provides a gentle introduction to the benefits of the Internet. It is a 'one-stop shop' from which to find most of the recent legal materials, an update on local government news and a search facility to trace information on a specific topic or problem. It saves time and paper. If you want the reassurance of a final check that there are no recent developments and nothing you have overlooked before you commit your advice to print, it is an ideal solution.
The lawyer section of the site is being developed in association with Berwin Leighton, a City law firm with considerable experience of working with local authorities. Its expertise has helped LGCnet provide a service for local government lawyers, but it is one the users themselves also contribute to.
Berwin Leighton's lawyers have seen the benefits of the Internet in their own work and believe the LGCnet site provides something especially useful for local government lawyers. The scope to filter and organise materials from a wide range of sources, including the LGC database, makes the channel a natural medium for lawyers in local government.
For the committed net-head, LGCnet provides an opportunity to exploit a hobby at work. For the Luddites, it means they can free up some time for the more important things of life.
Councils that already subscribe to LGCnet can provide their lawyers with the tailored package at a special rate. Those that do not subscribe can see what they are missing out on at the LGC stand at the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors conference this week.
If you are unable to make the conference, demonstrations or free trials can be arranged by calling Maria Annecca on 0171 837 4402.
By Anna Forge, a partner at Berwin Leighton, and Scott Parker, a researcher with LGCnet.