21/09/2006

Do you wanna be in my CLAN

Some of those of us metaphorically stripped to the waist at the civil legal aid coalface will be impressed or envious at the fast work of Scott-Moncrieff Harbour & Sinclair, who have decided that it is better to pre-empt the Legal Services Commission’s approach to Community Legal Advice Networks (CLANS) than await whatever prescription descends from the heights. They are probably right.

For anyone still wondering, CLANS are the LSC’s answer to the problem of the near total lack of rural or urban large firms capable of delivering the LSC vision of ‘holistic’ one stop shops for civil problems, given that such problems are usually intertwined; debt, benefits, family, housing, mental health etc.. Ideally the CLAN is an association of specialist providers, checking and then cross-referring each client’s full range of problems.

In principle, this is surely a good idea, one worth preserving from the LSC’s likely implementation. But CLANS are not going to be straightforward in operation. Aside from the inescapable problem of worsening public funding, three problems spring to mind, in no particular order:

The referral mechanism will need to be pretty robust, both in identifying training needs for front-line caseworkers and in ensuring capacity for referred cases. Resentments and accusations of cherry picking could build up very quickly otherwise.

According to the Gazette, Scott-Moncrieff’s CLAN avant la lettre includes private firms and non-profit organisations. This seems to be inevitable for all CLANS if they are to provide the full range of services. After all, does any private practice still provide debt or welfare advice? But, given the mix of profit and NFP, how, in principle, will profit costs, funding and charging differences be worked out, let alone cross CLAN expenses?

And let’s be honest, a certain degree of arrogance in firms and NFPs will not help CLAN formation, the current scene being more Glen Coe than Braveheart.

Scott-Moncrieff are not a particularly conventional firm, so it is perhaps not surprising that they are among the pioneers. It may be too much to expect them to report back to the rest of us on the learning experiences involved in the running of an effective CLAN, but applause is due to them for pioneering what may be the only good idea to emerge from the LSC’s rethink of civil public funding. Applause also for recognising that this is likely to be a situation where early movers prosper. Now, where is my invitation?

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

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