Legal services in councils are about more than just bog-standard work.
which legal skills we can utilise in house.
On 5 March Calderdale MBC completed the transfer of its housing stock. In all, some 12,759 houses and flats were transferred to Pennine Housing 2000, a registered social landlord specifically formed for this purpose.
It is the norm for councils to contract out all the legal work in relation to such a major project to external solicitors.
However, Calderdale had the confidence to allow its own legal section to do the conveyancing. After all, who else knows better the history of the council's titles and their intricacies? Not only did this decision bear fruit in terms of
speed, but it meant the council saved many thousands of pounds in legal fees. What did we learn from such a large project?
Councils should not be shy to learn from others. A visit to neighbouring Tameside MBC helped us compare notes and overcome difficulties.
A good relationship with the Land Registry is vital. In our case, the Nottingham office assigned two people who completed 240 first registrations of title by the end of January 2001, some 12 months after they were first approached. We were able to visit the Land Registry to see progress and discuss issues informally. This helped to smooth the process and even resulted in a letter of thanks from them at the end.
Efficient use of technology proved vital. Calderdale MBC was not afraid to invest in up-to-date IT equipment. Email was used extensively. It is vital all advisers and external agencies use compatible software. The Land Registry's internet-based direct access service was installed so their registers could be viewed and searches made electronically. This saved us many man hours and hopefully fewer trees were cut down.
On 5 March 2001, an expectant crowd gathered in Halifax town hall. Present were representatives of the council, Pennine Housing 2000, their mortgagees and respective solicitors. Over a hundred documents were executed before the transaction was completed.
Council lawyers should not be afraid to display their confidence in handling such large projects. While not every project can be handled in house, often due to a lack of resources and the need to service other work, there will be cases where the majority of the work can be done internally while receiving some external assistance in specific areas. This will not only save money, but
also enhance the reputation of the
in-house lawyers and be good for the council as whole.
Ian Halliwell, John Ferrett,
Legal services, Calderdale MBC