PLEASANT HILL -- City leaders are dropping the full-time city attorney model in favor of contracting with a law firm, and adding an assistant city manager position to lead three key departments.

The city seeks a firm or individual well-versed in municipal law to provide 25 to 30 hours of legal services per week. Pleasant Hill has been paying the San Francisco law firm Richards Watson & Gershon $225 per hour since August, shortly after former City Attorney Debra Margolis resigned.

The city paid $281,354 for Margolis' total compensation package in 2011, including a base salary of $203,808, deferred compensation, and pension and medical benefits.

A provision added in 1992 to the Pleasant Hill municipal code created the appointed full-time position of city attorney. But after Margolis left, city leaders wanted to explore other avenues of securing the wide range of legal services Pleasant Hill needs.

Other cities in the county take different approaches to filling the role of city attorney depending upon budget and needs. For example, Walnut Creek has three full-time attorneys, while Martinez and Clayton contract with law firms.

Martinez pays the Sonoma law firm Walters & Pistole $173 per hour for litigation, $86 per hour for paralegal services and $164 per hour for non-litigation. In fiscal year 2011-2012, Martinez paid the firm $168,230.

Interested law firms must submit a proposal by Jan. 15. Mayor Michael Harris and Councilman Jack Weir will review the applications and select finalists. The full council will interview the firms in February or March.

"In evaluating firms, I want a firm that can provide the wide range of services that we need and do so in a cost-effective manner," Harris said.

Harris believes contracting with a law firm is an attractive option for the city because it provides the flexibility to adjust hours to keep costs in line or to hire a replacement if the council is unsatisfied with the level of service.

The new assistant city manager/administrative services director position will oversee finance, human resources and IT departments and fill in when the city manager is out of town. The compensation package includes medical, dental and retirement benefits plus a salary from $129,000 to $172,000. The city is accepting applications until Feb. 8.

To save money, the city left the two finance and human resources department director positions unfilled for the past five years.

"As part of the last budget discussions, we talked with the budget committee and the issue is we only have one department head left and that is the police chief," City Manager June Catalano said.

Harris said he expects the new hire also will benefit residents.

"We've put a lot on June's plate to basically act as the director of each of those departments and we think that we will be providing better services to our constituents if we have someone who reports to June who can manage primarily the HR function and the finance function," Harris said.

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.