Legal Aid contract round – In the thick of it

The results of the Social Welfare Law and combined Housing/Family contract bids are slowly coming through. I am mindful that as I write this, firms/organisations in specific areas have not yet been informed whether they have a contract and if so for how many matter starts. But I have heard enough from various areas of the country and boroughs of London that suggest thats the results are going to have a dramatic impact on the shape of housing law provision. I’m sorry if this increases the already sky high anxiety of those still waiting – over two weeks after they were supposed to be informed.

I don’t propose to go into detail, as I think it is for individual firms and organisations to decide whether or not to go public on their position. But it is clear that some well established, extremely able firms and organisations have either not received contracts or have received matter start allocations that are far too small to be practically and economically viable. I know of at least two firms that would be generally regarded as amongst the most skilled housing practitioners in the country that haven’t got contracts.

It also seems that there has been a trend in the LSC’s contract awards towards minimising the number of contracts in any given area, or borough, with some organisations receiving a large part, the majority, or, in some instances, all of the available matter starts in the category.

Small firms, unless part of a successful consortium, appear to be simply being wiped off the map as legal aid providers.

To some degree, none of this is a surprise. The LSC’s preference for small numbers of large contractors has been clear for quite some time, and the invention of the social welfare law category itself was a clear marker that the time of the one field specialist practice was over for legal aid work. But the scale on which the change being enacted is something else again and quite shocking.

Anecdotally, it seems that private practice firms are taking a particularly big hit, but we won’t really know the full picture until the dust settles. When the dust does drop, it will likely reveal a radically changed landscape for many, perhaps all, legal aid housing practitioners.

The Law Society is apparently taking advice in relation to an apparent concurrent massacre of family contracts, but it sounds dubious on the practical purpose of a challenge.

For disclosure, my firm is OK, so I’m commenting from a position of relative certainty.

If anyone wants to leave comments about their firm or organisation’s result and position, feel free. But I would ask that people don’t add comments about other firms that they know or have heard about. For a public forum that information really has to come from those concerned.

[Edit: According to the ilegal forums, even if you have a letter with your matter start allocation, things might not be as they seem. At least one provider has had a follow up letter from the LSC saying:

We have discovered an error in the number of matter starts allocated to you in that letter. This error was caused by an issue in our database used to calculate awards where bids were tied, as once it had allocated to the minimum matter starts it pro rata’d the remaining matter starts between bidders without taking into account the number of matter starts bid for and capacity cap.

What can one say? The LSC may not be long for this world, but it is leaving us something to remember it by.]

About Giles Peaker

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, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Various (non-housing) and tagged , , , .

9 Comments

  1. Appreciating that the dust has yet to completely settle, I have to say I feel like I’ve seen this before.

    It reminds me of Walmart’s take over of the American mid-west – and the decimation of many locally owned shops in the process.

    I’ll leave it for others to draw further analogies.

  2. and another thing…

    I volunteer at a legal advice clinic. Where a client is going to need on going assistance, I give them the details of a few local legal aid solicitors.

    I have a sinking feeling Firm X may have won the lion’s share of the contract in the borough.

    Trouble is, when I have suggested Firm X, the punters turn their nose up.

    Where is the choice for the client?

    The Government might reward the McDonald’s approach to legal services by giving a firm the contract for the borough, but when the clients tell you they’ve been to Firm X and “they’re not doing anything/ I can never see them” then is that really public money well spent? Really?

  3. Im not subject to this contract round – but have an investment in seeing good quality and accessible solicitors (especially as those two features often clash) retain their contracts.

    Working nationally there seems to have been really mixed results. A bit gutted about two provincial firms I’ve heard who havent got contracts. Won’t name names as per NLs instructions :(

    Very much waiting on tenterhooks for London outcomes as NLs firm being ok, is the only one I am aware of – most of the solicitors I use are in the due dilligence boroughs so its yet more waiting.

    Don’t envy any of you who are waiting for the results :( Good luck

  4. Rich, the ilegal boards are interesting and helpful, but useless for figuring out what the picture is in terms of allocation of contracts – understandably, people don’t say.

    Cait – interesting (if worrying). Not sure if it is the same two firms we know about. There are also intriguing rumours about parts of London, those that aren’t still waiting.

    Kris – I’m taking a wild stab at ‘firm x’, but the flux and flow of rumour suggests the result might not wholly be what you expect. That said, while the principle of choice in the legal aid sector often remains just a principle, due to demand, it is important that there is at least more than one provider in each area as there are plenty of opportunities for conflicts of interest to arise. That and the sheer waste of specialist, detailed knowledge…

  5. One should also not forget the need to have available the option of the second opinion.

    Most of us will have had experience of coming across a client who has been knocked back by other firms or counsel yet for whom we can identify a case- especially in an area where the law is as complicated as housing law.

  6. I think we mean the same two firms NL.
    So far I’ve not heard of any shock and awe results in other provincial cities -but not heard full details of them either.

    There does appear to be a rather suprising trend going on though…

    Cait

  7. OK we’ll enable you to stop being coy about at least one of the firms you are talking about!! We at Community Law Partnership are one of the two provincial firms referred to. We are, of course, appealing the decision. At this stage we would appreciate letters of support. These should be,I would suggest, addressed ‘to whom it may concenr’ and please both post to us at CLP, 4th Floor Ruskin Chambers, 191 Corporation St, Birmingham B4 6RP and e-mail a copy to chrisjohnson@communitylawpartnership.co.uk
    Thanks to all for their support and we will keep you all informed of progress
    Well done as ever to the NL crew for their excellent work on this site

    • Thanks Chris. I’m still shocked by the decision, although no doubt less shocked than you all. Letter of support to come.

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