Interesting whispers are circulating about the planned direction for civil legal aid funding, previously discussed here.
The initial plan for Community Legal Networks, or CLANS, was that these would be supported for rural areas and advice deserts. Firms could associate so that specialist provision could be shared over a wider geographic area. I still think that this won’t work in the rural/desert areas.
But maybe wisdom has crept in concerning the urban areas. Previously, the idea was that large, all providing firms would be the best route for the kind of ‘holistic’ approach the LSC wanted. This was doomed to failure, certainly over the timeframe envisaged. There just aren’t enough of these firms.
Now, however, the muttering is that urban CLANS will be supported and encouraged. I always thought that this was the context in which the CLAN model made most sense, so that smaller specialist provision is supported but easy referral or collaboration on interrelated problems is encouraged.
How far the LSC is willing to push this model to overcome the innate resistance of many firms remains to be seen. Certainly it won’t be easy, and there could be all kinds of issues about referral agreements, funding models and case collaboration/billing to address (or of course, ignore).
For urban CLANS to work effectively, there will have to be some element of a culture shift and the LSC will have to push that. The risk is that the LSC will promptly come up with a prescriptive model for the structure and operation of a CLAN. My personal sense is that these will best evolve in a variety of forms that best suit the firms and locales concerned. An approach from the LSC focussed on outcomes (of referrals, of linked cases etc.) and on the quality assurance of the oversight of the linking processes would be better than a prescription of how the CLAN relationships should work.
Again, there is much to play out, but this is, if true, at least a step in the right direction. Of course, the appalling level of civil legal aid funding could still make much of this academic. How many practices, anywhere, offer social welfare or community care law, beyond the stunningly hard pressed Law Centres? CLANS need such practices, if they can find them.
Of course, I am but a humble paralegal, but I have seen very similar top down funding and practice models played out in other fields. And this is, hopefully, my future involved here.