Jon Hanlon profiles five of the best
Writing the law
Director of law and administration, Kensington & Chelsea LBC
As a result of her department's action, the Home Office amended proposed legislation
Gifty Edila is the first black woman president of the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors. She has worked at Kensington & Chelsea LBC for three years and her team won the LGC legal team of the year in 2004.
She influenced legislation after banning drug dealers from parts of the borough. When the dealers returned, Ms Edila's department acted swiftly and they were sent to prison for breaching the exclusion order.
As a result, the Home Office added a section to the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, which means defendants ignoring court orders can be arrested.
The department has been praised by local chief superintendent Dominic Clout, who says it is helping police to close down crack houses. Close working with police has been central to Ms Edila's success and she has helped get more officers on the streets.
Influences 'Others I have worked with, such as Honour Judge Angelica Mitchell who trained me at the bar, and Lady Barbara Lowry who was my head of chambers.'
Ambitions 'I enjoy law and my department so there is no rush to move on.'
Role models 'My grandmother, who had 10 children and brought them up as well as working as a head teacher in Ghana.'
Sorting a shambles
Director of law and democratic services
Created a functioning legal service when Hackney LBC faced government intervention
Claer Lloyd-Jones joined Hackney LBC in October 2001, when the council faced a huge deficit and government intervention.
She says: 'It was a complete shambles and it was my job to come in and create a service that functioned and was fit for purpose.'
As monitoring officer, she is in charge of implementing the ethical framework.
She says: 'When staff feel valued, they deliver better services. We have been promoting that with partner organisations and looking for shared ethical values.'
Ms Lloyd-Jones, a past president of the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors, is seen as a moderniser.
Influences 'My mother, because she was the most predominant woman when I was growing up, and my daughter, who has been given an offer by Glasgow School of Art.'
Ambitions 'My main one is to be in a high-performing team that makes a difference.'
Role models 'Nelson Mandela. James Goudie QC, because he is proactive and helpful in dealing with local government law.'
Radical on council tax
County secretary and monitoring officer, Kent CC
Council tax rises were limited in line with inflation for around 135,000 of Kent's pensioners
Geoff Wild has worked at Kent CC for 16 years. His department has more than 100 staff and a turnover of£6.5m. He has helped it develop expertise in a range of areas, including employment, child protection, education, the private finance initiative, debt recovery, asylum, building contracts, pensions, planning and complex litigation.
Professional services company KPMG recently found a higher level of satisfaction among residents than in any previous survey of a council's legal department.
Mr Wild introduced radical proposals to limit council tax increases for pensioners, in a bid to tackle hikes that were four times the rate of inflation. It was felt the cost of living in the south-east, along with just a 2.6% increase in the basic state pension and reduced grant for Kent CC, were making council tax increases intolerable. He suggested that council tax increases should only be in line with inflation for around 135,000 pensioners.
He had hoped to achieve this by using powers under the council tax provisions of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, the Local Government Act 2003 and through wellbeing powers in the Local Government Act 2000, against a backdrop of administrative law principles and human rights and anti-
Influences 'Management philosopher Paddi Lund has influenced me in terms of running the department, planning for the future and building a team. He focuses on the principle of happiness.'
Ambitions 'I have got a lot more to give and want to do that in the public sector, in local government or elsewhere. I may be interested in becoming chief executive of a large local authority or something in central government.'
Role models One of the best-known law-making judges of the 20th century, Lord Denning. Mr Wild says: 'He never did things by the book. He used the law as a tool to achieve change, rather than as a dry instrument.'
Building a team of 300
Chief legal officer, Birmingham City Council
Helped create the largest in-house department in the UK
Mirza Ahmad's team of around 300 staff picked up this year's LGC Awards legal team of the year. Mr Ahmad says this has been one of the highlights of his career so far.
He says: 'A lot of hard work was involved to come from nowhere to the very top. There was a lot of thorough preparation and hard work getting the department match fit.'
He introduced a management development programme for all lawyers and managers and helped create the largest in-house council legal department in the UK.
Mr Ahmad also handled the controversial and complex European and city council elections in 2004, which involved working with other staff across the city council and another 33 local authorities.
His legal department gained more than 70 injunctions and undertakings, all of which related to anti-social behaviour, as well as nine anti-social behaviour orders.
Mr Ahmad worked with the police, Birmingham Women's Aid, the probation service and social services to try to apply the law in innovative ways to tackle those who carry out domestic violence.
His department has also set up a number of other partnerships with magistrates,
drug action teams, voluntary sector organisations and others, looking into the law around issues such as racial crime and prostitution.
Influences 'I have been influenced by Sir Michael Lyons to some extent. I joined Birmingham City Council because of him - because I wanted to learn from him.'
Ambitions 'To do the best for Birmingham and for local government. My future will also depend on career opportunities.'
Role models 'I don't have one specific role model, but try to do everything to the best of my ability.'
Reinventing the city
City solicitor, Liverpool City Council
Provided the legal backbone for Liverpool's regeneration
Graeme Creer joined the legal team at Barnet LBC at the start of a management revolution. He says: 'It was a very conservative council, but I started at the same time as the beginning of a managerial revolution and that gave me an opportunity to create a legal department from a blank piece of paper.'
Barnet LBC won the LGC legal team of the year award in 2000, just before Mr Creer headed back to Merseyside, where he grew up, and a job at Liverpool City Council.
He says: 'It has been a hugely exciting time, watching the council grow and the city reinvent itself. I remember when I would come back in the 1980s and it was falling apart.'
His projects for the city council include a large shopping centre, a tram system, a cruise liner terminal, a city-wide ban on smoking and a host of regeneration projects.
Influences 'The two chief executives I have worked with, Max Caller at Barnet LBC and David Henshaw at Liverpool City Council.'
Ambitions 'I have always had no greater ambition than to do the best I can as well
as I can.'
Role models 'I have learned a lot from everyone I have worked with.'