A predictably messy aftermath to the great unified contract signing debacle. The LSC extended the deadline to today at the last moment. Why, so that it could pick up some of the hold outs from Friday, expecting them to be thoroughly demoralised by the announced 85% sign up rate. It probably worked.
Of course the mood of the holdouts cannot have been improved by the behaviour of Bindmans. I can understand the reasoning of firms who signed, I can understand that of firms who didn’t sign, but I struggle with a firm which announces that it will not sign, that the contract offends against practicality and principle, and that they will stand against the tempest, and then, ummm, signs quickly and quietly on Friday ‘under protest’. What the hell did they think they were doing? They come out of it looking either shoddy or incompetent, neither of which is good. This makes them a bit of a laughing stock and it will take quite some time to live down. It doesn’t help that they have removed their earlier statement from the website and replaced it with a link to their ‘signing under protest’ letter. We all read the earlier statement, at least be honest about it, rather than pretending it didn’t exist. (Does anyone have a copy of the earlier announcement or have access to the Solicitor’s Journal page here, which I can’t get to. If so, please send me the text of Bindman’s non-signing announcement, thanks.)
As for others, some small firms have certainly decided that this is it – they are either out of legal aid or folding altogether. I imagine some of the larger non-signers have had a very difficult day today. For instance, Fisher Meredith, whose staff and partners were apparently shown voting on the decision on Friday’s Channel 4 news (has anyone got an uploadable copy of this? I missed it). They are a largely legal aid firm, so holding out will be a huge issue for them. I would not be at all surprised to find they had signed today. This would very different to Bindman’s actions, being a changed reaction to changing circumstances.
And it looks like I was right about some areas being hit particularly hard, with Lambeth looking badly off. But it is likely these will be treated as ‘local issues’ rather than a major problem for the contract or the LSC.
Messy, messy, messy.