Firms make strong showing in Legal Aid Board's family mediation services project

SOLICITORS account for half of those taking part in the Legal Aid Board pilot on family mediation services.

A total of 36 firms, including 18 law firms, from 13 town and city areas throughout the UK, will offer the service during the first part of the test phase.

The Legal Aid Board will hold a series of conferences in May and June for participating practitioners to explain how the pilot will run.

Several firms contacted by The Lawyer said one of the anticipated problems was that the general public would know very little about the service.

Gillian Bishop, a partner at the Family Law Consortium, which was set up 18 months ago to provide legal services, counselling and mediation services, said: “The public do not know enough about it. I hope the pilot can increase public awareness of the scheme.”

Cardiff practice Leo Abse & Cohen, another firm involved in the pilot, said it was considering setting up a new mediation department in a separate building with its own reception area. Associate partner Peter Burden said: “It should have a separate identity to get away from the atmosphere of the normal practice.”

Pauline Fowler, of City firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite, also involved in the pilot, said: “We are committed to the principle that both mediation and legal aid should be available.”

But she cautioned: “I think if mediators are dealing with something a court would not normally handle, the client should be told.

“We are not opposed to non-lawyers becoming mediators. What I do have difficulty with is the concept of people who are not lawyers dealing with all the issues of mediation.”