Solicitors lose out in CLS proposals

Non-qualified legal advisers are set to be the winners, and private practitioners the losers, in the Government's plans for a Community Legal Service (CLS).

The Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) believes that too many solicitors are involved too early in giving advice on areas such as social welfare benefits. Senior government sources have told The Lawyer much of this work could be done by advice agencies such as law centres and citizens advice bureaux.

Ministers are also keen to have fewer lawyers in the middle class suburbs and more legal advice available in the poorer inner cities.

The Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine will this week map out his plans for the CLS in a keynote speech in advance of a White Paper due for publication next January.

He will rule out setting up specially branded CLS centres. Instead, social welfare law and much general advice work is expected to be directed to advice centres, which have already been given £6m extra funding to help them win Legal Aid Board contracts.

Local government is set to play a key role in co-ordinating a new funding regime that will pool central and local government funds, as well as those from charities such as the National Lottery.

Advice agencies have been lobbying for local government to have a statutory duty to set aside funds for legal advice, but this looks doubtful.

Law centres are concerned that they will become a dumping ground for non-profit legal work and that adequate funding to deal with the work won't be forthcoming.

Lawyers working in the non-profit sector also fear that the Government plans to bring employment law under conditional fees arrangements, thus excluding it from social welfare law handled by advice centres.

Law Centres Federation director Jay Sharma warned that the will to create the CLS “must be matched by a realistic allocation of resources”.