Duncan Lewis


Asylum, Detention/ Fast Track

Managed Migration, Public Law

Many legal aid firms pulling out of public funded work a joint survey by LSB and Law Society says

Date: (17 January 2013)    |    

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A joint survey by Legal Service Board and Law Society has found that more than 31 per cent of legal aid firms were considering pulling out of public funded works. The survey was conducted on 2,000 law firms providing legal aid services.

Most of the firms which were keen to pull out of the legal aid services were family law firms who a third of whom wanted to withdraw from legal aid compared to 20 per cent of those offering welfare benefits advice or 17.5 per cent of housing practices.

Despite legal aid in criminal cases having been spared from stringent cuts still 14 per cent of firms said they were contemplating pulling out.

But there were fewer firms, offering publicly funded employment advice and those practicing in the medical negligence cases, who said they would like to withdraw with seven and five per cent respectively. Already 31 per cent of firms have said that they have started to pull out.

The report had an introduction by authors Professor Pascoe Pleasence, Dr Nigel Balmer and Professor Richard Moorhead who have warned of major challenges ahead for number of legal aid firms.

They said that a near permanent freeze in rates of pay and increasing control over quality assurance and the simultaneous rise in administrative costs in legal aid sector had led to a concentration of legal aid in fewer firms.

Traditionally the higher criminal legal aid had only seen a growth of sorts but even that has begun to shrink significantly.

The authors added that the business model associated with legal aid work had led to divergence of legal aid departments into new firms by more dominant private fee paying work where margins were higher.

Legal aid reforms may also have driven a higher level of specialisation among legal aid providers with more solicitors being recruited (through requirements in the specialist quality mark, under legal aid contracts, for instance).

The economic downturn also has played a major role in impacting of staffing balances and in particular the usage of paralegal staff.

The report said LASPO, with its cuts in scope, would “reduce the volume of work and gross fees available to legal aid firms under the scheme.

The report added that where alternative sources of funding for such work could be found such as ‘no win no fee’ option or third party funding for higher value cases still there would be lesser work and lower fee income unless the firms thought of diversifying.

Researches from TNS-BMRB asked legal aid firms in April and May 2012 whether they were considering withdrawing from legal aid over the next three years.