Franchise firms score double whammy in legal aid pay rises

FRANCHISED firms look set to receive double the pay-rise of non-franchised firms, it has emerged.

The Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) is offering the profession an increase of between 1.5 and 3 per cent – the first top-up on legal aid rates for three years.

And despite a Law Society call for bigger pay-rises across the board, the LCD is proposing to discriminate between firms which have franchises and those which do not.

“There are a very high number of competent firms who have not sought franchises,” says Russell Wallman, head of the society's professional policy team. “We are proposing that fees should be raised to meet the increase in overheads for all firms since the rates were last improved in 1992.”

The society is calling for a rise covering all areas of legal aid work from between 5 and 10 per cent.

The Lord Chancellor is proposing an increase of 3 per cent for franchised firms carrying out work in the magistrates courts and the Crown Courts and just 1.5 per cent for non-franchised firms.

A rise of 3.5 per cent is proposed for the police station duty solicitor scheme, with non-franchising firms receiving a meagre 2 per cent.

Green Form will be increased by 2 per cent, for those with franchises in the relevant areas, while no extra cash is on the table for offices without franchises.

The society's courts and legal services committee is continuing to press for better incentives for law firms to apply for franchises.

A package of improvements is being proposed which includes grants for franchised firms which wish to expand their volume of legal aid work in order to overcome cashflow difficulties.

Other measures include an increase in up-front payments in civil cases and the extension of the payment-on-account scheme to long-running criminal cases.