Legal assessment will be logistical nightmare claims senior partner

THE ACCURATE assessment of legal aid needs – according to geographical areas in London – will be a logistical nightmare, says the senior partner of one of London's foremost legal aid practices.

The London Regional Legal Services Committee (LRLSC) in its draft plan, divides London into bid zones – based on existing boroughs – and must identify the legal needs of each area in different categories, such as housing and immigration.

The funding available for legal areas in each zone will depend on whether need is assessed as high, medium or low priority.

But Greg Powell, senior partner of Powell Spencer & Partners, says if funds are allocated on a historical basis – based on how much aid a borough has required for each category in the past – boundary firms such as his will lose out.

“Our firm falls into the Camden bid zone by 20 feet, but most of our clients come from Brent, Barnet and Westminster. If the LRLSC assess low need in Camden for welfare benefit, for example, it will affect us because most of our clients are in other areas.

“They are trying to measure needs by borough, but legal aid does not fall so neatly into that geographical model.”

He complains the administrative burden of collecting data regarding cross border firms will be transferred to the solicitors.

The Legal Aid Board's manager of exclusive contracting, Martin South, however, claims there is no problem.

“Even if a firm is in Camden, for example, and most of its clients come from other boroughs, it will not matter because we record spend by a solicitor's office rather than a client's address,” he says.

The amount of money available for Camden, he adds, will be based on what is already going on in Camden, so it will not matter where the clients come from.

No one from the London Regional Legal Services Committee was available for comment.

But in its consultation paper, the LRLSC stresses that the document is only a starting point, and clearly hopes to have filled in many of the gaps in its knowledge by the time the consultation period close on 31 January.