Reforms signal end to UK firms legal aid work

On the eve of the publication of the Government’s consultation findings on the Carter reforms, a survey has revealed that 90 per cent of firms believe that the reforms will threaten their ability to continue legal aid work.

According to a survey by the College of Law, which questioned 53 legal aid practitioners, nine out of 10 respondents said they would seriously consider stopping legal aid work if the Carter reforms were implemented.

A further two-thirds said that legal aid should not be paid by fixed fees, as opposed to an hourly rate.

The findings follow the unprecedented move last week by 28 major commercial law firms, including Clifford Chance, Lovells and Herbert Smith, which joined together to send a letter of rebuke to the Lord Chancellor.

The letter stated: “The current proposals mean that it simply will not make commercial sense for solicitors to take on legal aid. Committed as our legal aid colleagues are to public service, they will be forced to leave the sector. We urge you to reconsider your plans and safeguard the future of this vital public service.”

The Government is to publish a report, entitled Legal aid reform: the way ahead, on its consultation findings on the Carter reforms tomorrow (28 November).

The College of Law survey found that 87 per cent of firms claimed that the proposals in the Legal Services Bill would result in the consolidation in the legal service market at the expense of smaller firms.

Over three-quarters of respondents also said that the development of alternative business structures would create potential conflicts of interest between shareholders and clients, and that the measures would pose a threat to the independence of the legal profession.

Only 42 per cent were optimistic about the introduction of multi-disciplinary partnerships, as there was a widespread belief that “the separation of disciplines offers a more fail safe service to clients”.

Two-thirds of respondents, however, said that the move to allow solicitors and barristers to work together in the same organisation was a positive development.