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Hundreds of lawyers are being forced to jump ship as time runs out for the vast majority of firms allowed to handle legal aid clinical negligence cases.
Two new panels of specialist practitioners will cut the number of firms that can take on such cases from about 3,200 last year to just 200 this year, under changes which were announced by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, last November.
Non-specialist solicitors were prevented from handling legal aid cases from 31 January this year.
The 2,000 personal injury franchise holders will be barred from 31 July unless they meet the new standard.
Firms bidding for a franchise must have at least one of their lawyers on either the Law Society panel or the panel run by charity Action for Victims of Medical Accidents (AVMA).
Both groups report a recent flood of applications, many from personal injury lawyers, for the few remaining places but most have been refused.
Non-panel lawyers who want to continue working in the field but whose firms have been refused a franchise are now being cherry-picked by the franchised firms, while solicitors on the panel have found themselves in demand.
Ann Alexander, co-founder of Alexander Harris, which has nine panel members, says: "We have had a terrific number of applications from people who have been doing clinical negligence cases in their old firm."
Spokesman for AVMA, Peter Saunders, says: "We have been receiving dozens and dozens of applications to be on the panel over the past few weeks."
He adds: "We are getting new applications every day and there are at least 80 being considered at the moment for the final 30 places on our panel."