Money talks loudest at reform's table

In 1992 the Lord Chancellor addressed the Law Society's national conference and set the tone for his legal aid reforms; the tone uncompromising, the measures unpopular.

The speech is significant because it gave the firmest indication of Lord Mackay's calm but determined approach to reform.

He outlined his plans for franchising, conditional fees and legal aid eligibility.

They have all come to pass despite substantial efforts by the legal profession to block him at every turn.

In the case of eligibility and the introduction of standard fees, the Law Society even went as far as to take last ditch legal action against the plans. The action failed and went on to the next round of strategic opposition.

Lord Mackay's Green Paper on legal aid, already condemned by lawyers as a setback for justice, is just as uncompromising.

It is said to contain the most radical reforms since legal aid was created 46 years ago. In fact, it's not all that surprising.

Lord Mackay is a reformer, but his reforms are budget-based. In his own words he wants to be

remembered as the "Lord Chancellor who did his very best to get for the public as good a service from the money that he had available as he possibly could".

Maybe lawyers are used to this now. They have certainly responded with unified dismay to the proposals, but their outcry seems to have lost the militancy of two years back.

The profession is in fact no weaker now than it was then. But it has learned it hasn't got a statutory weapon and can only rely on constant and earnest negotiation.

When it fights against these proposals the profession is fighting against the intransigence of the Treasury.