Today’s New Zealand public sector leaders need to work collectively across boundaries to deliver sustainable and long-term improvements to system and customer outcomes. One of the Leadership Success Profile (LSP) capabilities focuses on ‘enhancing system performance’.

How can collaborative leadership transform public service systems? What works and what doesn’t in leading people to collaborate effectively together?

In our final 2015 clinic in early December, the 2015 LDC Fellows presented their insights into collaborative leadership practices across public sector systems, looking at public legal practice, information/data and policy. They described some of the collaborative approaches they studied and observed overseas.

The Fellows

Tania Warburton, Policy Advisor (Legal), Policy Advisory Group, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Read about the United Kingdom Government Legal Service

Evelyn Wareham, General Manager, Customer Support and Development, Statistics New Zealand

Read about the wonderful world of data

Joint winners: Lis Cowey, Principal Advisor on Strategy, Change and Performance, The Treasury and Sally Washington, Programme Manager, The Policy Project, Improving the quality and performance of policy advice, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Read about Leadership for public sector innovation

Tania Warburton: United Kingdom Government Legal Service

Tania researched leadership models within the corporate legal sector and compared New Zealand’s in-house legal services model with that of the United Kingdom.

Large scale collaboration

“Large scale collaboration takes time,” Tania says, reflecting on the changes that have taken place to the UK Government Legal Service (GLS), which began in 1987. The UK public service moved initially from having many government agencies with their own small in-house legal services to a single virtual legal organisation. The GLS then evolved further to become an actual organisation, the Government Legal Department (GLD).

“Getting to the virtual state took a lot of good collaboration, and the organisation grew substantially over time,” Tania explains. “In 1990, the GLS had 800 lawyers as members. By 2013, this had risen to over 2,000”.

The successes

Key to the GLS’s success was its focus on three areas: centralised recruitment (offering reduced costs to individual agencies), training and development, and the establishment of the Legal Information Online Network (LION). This intranet service allowed all government lawyers to access legal research, precedents and online job opportunities relevant to government legal work. It helped build a large legal community and a brand.

Over time, the GLS began to break down departmentalism and led to a greater movement of lawyers across agencies.

The next phase involved formalising the approach, and the GLS moved from being virtual to an actual organisation – the GLD.

Today, the GLD is the largest legal organisation in the UK, with 1,837 staff and 20 nationwide locations. The majority of in-house agency legal units have moved under the GLD umbrella.

Tania explains that the GLD “provides all the functions of an in-house legal team plus litigation” and is essentially 100 per cent cost recovery.

The benefits

The GLD design provides for centralised recruitment and structured career development across the government legal services. It also established an assessment process for lawyers who want to apply for non-legal leadership roles within the wider civil service.  

The GLD model is flexible, offers efficiencies through its centralisation in terms of recruitment and is more cost effective. It has sought to reduce the hourly fee rate and allows agencies some flexibility to plan for large projects or scale back when legal resources are not in high demand. As well, the consistency of legal services is guaranteed through standard templates and guidance and having centres of expertise, for example, in areas of international law or the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

However, Tania also acknowledges the downsides of the GLD. She observes, “There can be a lack of tension in advice and quality control, as well as a loss of specialisation and institutional knowledge. Agencies have to trust the recruitment process since they don’t get to choose the legal staff for their teams.”

Tania is now turning her attention to the New Zealand public sector legal services model and the lessons that can be applied from overseas to help combat the dual pressures of increasing workloads and diminishing resources.

Read more - Evelyn Wareham: The wonderful world of data

Read more - Lis Cowey and Sally Washington: Leadership for public sector innovation