Irvine extends franchise application date

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, has yielded to the pleas of legal aid lawyers and the Law Society and extended the deadline for franchise applications by three months.

Lord Irvine has given solicitors until 31 March 1999 to apply for legal aid civil advice and assistance franchises, a prerequisite for those solicitors wanting to continue doing advice and assistance work after January 2000 when the Government's first block contracting scheme begins.

The Law Society and legal aid practitioners had feared many ethnic minority lawyers would miss the deadline.

At a Law Society crisis meeting last month only one of 220 black and Asian solicitors in attendance raised a hand when it was asked who was franchised.

An unusually high percentage of black and Asian solicitors are sole practitioners – 4 per cent compared with 7 per cent for the whole profession – and it is precisely these solicitors who have found it most difficult to apply for franchises.

Law Society council member for ethnic minority solicitors Maria Fernandes formed a group last week to assist solicitors applying for franchises, which has produced a guide on how to apply.

Fernandes said: “We are delighted that the Government has taken on board the concerns we expressed and come back with the result, and this is going to benefit everyone.”

The Law Society has previously come under attack from Legal Aid Board chief executive Steve Orchard for waiting until October before advising firms to apply for a franchise.

The Law Society has held eight franchising roadshows to inform solicitors about the deadline and is in the process of planning a fresh campaign for next year.