"Legal aid party is over'

You report that we have gone out of our way to support the Government's legal aid reforms ("Two leading legal aid firms back Govt", The Lawyer, 7 April). We concluded that legal aid needed an overhaul before Lord Irvine took office. It was an opinion informed by practice in medical negligence, personal injury and product liability litigation.

You report that we have "broken ranks with the rest of the legal profession", but I know many other lawyers whose anecdotal evidence leads them privately to share our views. Add statistical evidence of shortcomings in the system, and a case is made for change.

Reforms proposed by the Government are not ideal, but we commend them for two pragmatic and realistic reasons. First, the legal aid party is over. Why should lawyers enjoy any immunity from the painful changes being made elsewhere in welfare provision? That is what I meant when I said the status quo was not a plausible option. Second, we believe the Government's proposals are a basis for negotiation.

The public interest fund is a case in point. It could broaden access to justice and enable funding of complex cases, especially in the early stages of preparation. But to expect the fund to run along similar lines to legal aid would be unrealistic.

If it is to fund multi-party actions or complex cases like those of brain-damaged babies, it should instruct only lawyers expert in the specific case area.

I was arguing at the recent minister's briefing for results-centred, not time-sensitive, costing.

The same affordable justice needs more specialist firms, more centres of legal excellence better able to develop risk analysis systems and case management procedures.

It is from the ranks only of the inefficient lawyer, trying to get to grips with complex cases, that we are trying to break.

Ann Alexander, managing partner, Alexander Harris.