A national franchise-user forum is being set up under the umbrella of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), despite fears of diverging interests.
A steering group was appointed last week to create a franchise sub-committee comprising representatives from each legal aid area.
LAPG chair Lyn Devonald says an overwhelming majority of members who had been offered a franchise wanted the organisation to act in a user group role.
“They are aware of the potential for a conflict of interest, but remain in favour of setting up a new group under the umbrella of an existing organisation,” he says.
Franchised firms are keen to take advantage of the LAPG's standing, its negotiating power and the back-up it would provide. Practitioners are also keen to avoid further fragmentation of the profession.
“It's the old maxim – divide and rule. That's what we are looking to avoid,” says Devonald.
An LAPG-led franchise forum would take a wider perspective on issues such as standard fees and eligibility.
“In the longer term it would not be in the interests of franchised firms to act in isolation,” says Devonald, of Devonald Griffiths & Co.