Two leading legal aid firms back Govt plans for reform

TWO leading legal aid firms have broken ranks with the rest of the legal profession by going out of their way to support the government's legal aid reform proposals.

Niche Manchester medical negligence practice Alexander Harris and London legal aid giant Thompsons both spoke out in favour of the government's plans to withdraw legal aid from personal injury cases at a seminar held at the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) last week.

Geoff Hoon, the parliamentary secretary at the LCD, had invited journalists to the seminar to demonstrate the existence of support for his reforms within the legal profession.

Alexanders' senior partner Ann Alexander said she thought the status quo was “no longer a possible option” and that lawyers needed to specialise so they could manage cases better.

She added: “Under the current system there are few incentives for lawyers to tell their clients their chances of success, how long their case will take and how much it costs. No longer can lawyers earn while they learn.”

However, she welcomed the government's decision to delay withdrawing legal aid from medical negligence cases to allow firms time to adapt to doing conditional fee work. And she said some complex cases, such as those involving brain-damaged babies which cost up to £150,000 to take to court, would always need government support.

Thompsons' partner Tom Jones echoed Alexander's call for more specialist solicitors.

He said: “Lawyers have for too long lived off legal aid at the expense of the taxpayer and sometimes at the expense of the victim.”

see analysis, page two.