The Future Of Family Legal Aid – Exploring The Selected Opportunities

Dated:   

Emma Hopkins, Solicitor, Simpson Millar LLP, Leeds, and Member of West and North Yorkshire Young Resolution Committee recently attended the Resolution National Conference in Leeds and has summarised the following Legal Aid Workshop "The Future of Family Legal Aid – Exploring the Selected Opportunities" below.

It is fair to say that, despite the seriousness of the subject this was a light hearted seminar, precisely what was needed at the end of a successful conference. It was also attended by the conference’s headline speaker and most distinguished guest, Sir Nicholas Wall himself.

Elspeth Thompson of David Gray Solicitors and David Emmerson of TV Edwards LLP firstly looked at the proposed reforms to legal aid funding in LASPO and the hard work Resolution and the Reforms Task force has been doing on behalf of members, which has resulted in winning some valuable concessions.

Family Law Solicitors

We then had a round of “Play Your Cards Rights” to guess the fees that are now being paid with the advent of fixed fees 10 months ago and the 10% reduction that has just come into force. As someone who undertakes little legal aid work myself I was astounded to learn that the fee for acting for a parent in private Children Act proceedings in the County Court from issue of those proceedings to resolution without a final hearing will be just £353! The workshop shared experiences and tips for trying to make fixed fees work, considering bolt ons and form filling requirements to ensure you get paid at the right level.

There was feedback from a recent meeting with the Legal Services Commission to discuss lessons to be learned from the 2011 tender round. Amazingly 8% of firms failed in a non competitive tender. Over 130 did not fill the forms in correctly. The message was check, check, check and check again before submitting the tender and do not do it by yourself, share the responsibility. For their part the LSC have committed to improving the verification process for the 2012/13 tender round. As things presently stand the LSC are proposing that future contracts will be based on a licence rather than matter start allocations, although this may change. The rationale for the change in the approach is that the budget will be managed by fixed fees and scope changes.

We ended considering the threats and opportunities for the future; the challenges of ABS, and the Co-op in particular, in terms of capturing those clients who are likely to fall outside the scope of legal aid funding in the future, and the opportunities for legal aid practitioners to offer publicly funded mediation services and the importance of developing relationships with other firms to develop referrals.

It was certainly a good workshop to attend in advance of the Legal Aid Conference on 21st June 2012. The presenters did a fantastic job, taking into account of the fact that, through no fault of their own, they had found themselves without a projector, heating or seats when they arrived at the room! It just goes to show that family solicitors can make the best of any situation … and with the Legal Aid changes ahead we need to!


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