Race on for LAB franchises

Firms without legal aid franchises which want to bid for a contract to continue handing out green form advice after the year 2000 have been given less than four months to apply.

The deadline has been imposed by the Legal Aid Board (LAB) in the run up to the introduction of what will be the Government's first exclusive block contracting scheme, due to begin in January 2000. But the timetable has been condemned as far too tight by legal aid solicitors and the Law Society.

Currently the Law Society has only been advising firms to “gear themselves up” for franchising but not necessarily to gain a franchise. Law Society policy executive Natalie Breeze said the society might now “revise” this advice. She said the society would seek a meeting with the board in the next couple of weeks to request an extension.

Fisher Meredith senior partner Eileen Pembridge, a Law Society council member, said a six-month timetable would be more “realistic” and predicted the deadline would spread “panic and despair” across the profession. She accused LAB of ignoring the commitments and commercial decisions faced by law firms in the course of their business.