Thursday, September 28, 2006

Legal aid again

I can remember, quite a long time ago, it could have been as much as 10 years, I went to a presentation by the Legal Aid Board (as it was then). I can’t remember why or what it was about, but what I do remember is a tirade which one of the speakers suddenly got up and gave against solicitors. “You have all had it soft” he said (or words to that effect), waving his finger at us, "there are going to be changes and you lot are going to have to get used to it." Well we didn’t actually, what happened was that we all stopped doing legal aid.

But that is just typical of the attitude that we all get from the (as it now is) Legal Services Commission. With a few honourable exceptions. they seem to think that we are a useless overqualified mercenary lot who need teaching a lesson.

This attitude has been prevalent for years, during which pay has been frozen, administration has been hiked up to frightening proportions, and most sensible lawyers have left for more remunerative work elsewhere. The only ones still doing legal aid are those with a strong pubic service ethic who believe in working for the community. But maybe even they won’t be around for long.

A new independent report shows that hundreds of legal aid firms are likely to be forced out of business as if the new reforms come in, legal aid work is not only going to be unprofitable, it will be loss making. So effectively solicitors will have to pay to do it! Even the most public spirited solicitor is likely to baulk at that one.

So the losers will be, not the solicitors – they are educated and have a good qualification, they are not going to suffer for long - but those who need their services. Where will they go for legal help when the last legal aid firm has gone bankrupt and its partners have taken jobs elsewhere? Who will fight for their rights? Only the law centres and the charities will be left. I wish them well.

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