Law Soc voices concern over block contract pilot scheme

The Law Society has expressed deep concern about proposals for a solicitor pilot scheme for the block contracting of civil green form work, which it says may set unrealistic precedents and put firms in breach of society practice rules.

It is writing to the Legal Aid Board (LAB) to say it finds the proposals for a block contracting pilot scheme for civil advice and assistance work, excluding family, unacceptable.

The society is concerned about the proposed research methods, which envisage dividing firms into three groups.

Group one firms will be paid according to hours of work done, group two will be required to do as much work as possible for a fixed sum and group three will get a fixed payment for a fixed number of cases.

Natalie Breeze, Law Society legal aid policy executive, said firms in group two might drive down prices or take on too much work to stay in the pilot. The LAB's statistics would then be distorted, which would set an unrealistic precedent for firms entering into block contracts in the future.

The society is also concerned that disbursements for groups two and three will not be regularly adjusted. “We think this will cash-limit disbursements. Firms who rely on disbursements might decide they can't get an expert's report for fear that they will run out of money. This will put them in conflict with their clients,” said Breeze.

The Law Society believes the plan might put firms in breach of practice rule one, which says solicitors must act in the best interests of the client and work to proper standards.

Around 145 franchised firms will be invited to participate in the long-awaited first phase pilot, due to start in April, after more than 840 firms expressed an interest.

LAB chief executive Steve Orchard said the board was delighted at the response and hoped to get a good mix of offices involved.