Senior partner: Marlan Higgins
Total number of fee-earners: 28, including 11 solicitors and four trainees
Main practice areas: Legal aid contracts in housing, community care, employment and family. Also personal injury, emplyment and litigation
Number of offices: One
Senior partner Marlan Higgins claims Turpin Miller & Higgins (TMH) tries to buck the trend. “When people were withdrawing from legal aid we took the approach that we were going to just go for it,” he says.
The firm was set up in Oxford three years ago by two lawyers from Linnells, Philip Turpin and Clare Miller, with the intention of making a successful legal aid practice. Higgins joined from HIV/Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust as an equity partner later that year. While TMH is committed to publicly funded work and low rates of pay, it bought its own premises for around £750,000 and has 28 fee-earners.
Like most legal aid firms, TMH uses its sizeable private practice (mainly personal injury, employment and general litigation) to cross-subsidise its publicly funded practice. However, legal aid accounts for 75 per cent of the workload. The firm has also worked with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and local authorities to form innovative schemes. Higgins describes the firm’s relationship with the LSC as “difficult” at first. The LSC was “suspicious of us”, he says, and “we didn’t trust them”. “We’ve sat down with the commission and said to them, ‘If you want us to deliver services in your area, then you have to change the way that you’re funding it’,” Higgins says.
Earlier this year, TMH became the first private practice firm to win a not-for-profit contract when Oxford Housing Rights pulled out after local authorities withdrew support. The firm is now providing interim advice for clients living under four councils in the Oxford area, as well as for support agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureaux and Women’s Aid. The TMH team also provides training for other providers.
Last month the firm launched the first web camera advice service as part of the housing scheme. The public will be able to access legal advice from web camera centres located at Oxford Town Hall, Women’s Aid offices and Citizens Advice Bureaux. He is also talking to the LSC about setting up webcams in prisons. The firm is running a course for inmates, run by the St Giles Trust, which trains prisoners to provide housing and resettlement advice to fellow inmates. “We’re absolutely committed to what we’re doing and we’ve decided to think outside the box instead of just sitting there and saying the LSC is rubbish,” the solicitor adds.