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07/01/2008

Exodus Part 1 (of many)

The Guardian reports on a survey by the Association of Lawyers for Children. The results are not surprising to anyone facing a legal aid future (although the survey was done before the LSC decision to terminate the unified contract).

One-third of individual solicitors and 40% of law firms planned to reduce their What Price Justicereliance on legal aid work. 17 solicitors had or were just about to give up family legal aid (what proportion was this?). One solicitor reported that a prospective client looking for an urgent domestic violence injunction had called 22 other solicitors without finding a taker. Anecdotally, this doesn’t surprise me. Some of our callers for housing have tried 10 or 11 other firms, and if we can’t take them on, no doubt the other callers will go on to do so. (This is discounting those with no case at all).

[Edit. The survey is here [word doc]. It is a survey taken at the ALC conference in November 2007. 101 survey forms were (mostly) completed. One might have questions about the representativeness of the sample. However, the sample is undoubtedly of experienced and specialised individuals.]

It is the most experienced, often in child care cases, who are looking to pull out, the article suggests. They would be the ones hit hardest in the new fee structure, so this shouldn’t startle anyone.

In Criminal legal aid, the shrinkage continues apace. Fisher Meredith are reportedly pulling out of criminal legal aid work from March. Fisher Meredith are a large specialist legal aid firm. This is a big step.

Naturally, the LSC points out that the very large majority of firms signed up to the unified contrat or the new criminal contract. Of course. The LSC said there wouldn’t be any legacy funding. Why stop dead when you have the opportunity to wind down and make plans for your alternative route?

Following their usual line, the LSC added “Where individual providers have made that decision [to leave], others have been willing to increase their legal aid work accordingly so there has been no impact on access to services.”So far that has been largely true, although it varies by area to area, but while firms are willing to go to their perceived maximum capacity, few are expanding afresh. Once large firms like Fisher Meredith start pulling out, in this case from Criminal, that capacity to absorb will disappear like spring morning mist.

The truth is that the crunch point has arrived. The next 12 months or so will see trend take shape. Up till now, given the sheer chaos of the implementation, everyone was content to wait and see. Now, for Criminal at least, the economics are clear and people will leave, in increasing numbers.

One imagines that about 3 years time, a frantic attempt will be made to rescue the situation by the MoJ/LSC. Any bets on a spin off of the CPS to be the CDS?

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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