3 May – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – Allen & Overy today announced a new and creative way to contribute cash to London’s voluntary legal agencies through the London Legal Support Trust1. It has pledged to donate the interest it earns by consolidating client monies on deposit2 and hopes that other firms will follow its example.
“We expect this new avenue for raising funds to generate donations from Allen and Overy in excess of £200,000 over the next three years. We hope that this simple voluntary model will be considered by other firms with more than 20 partners,” said Guy Beringer, senior partner at Allen & Overy.
“We stress that this is not a way of enabling Government to reduce its obligation to provide a publicly funded legal aid system. It is instead a platform from which to ask Government to meet that obligation and match this increase in funding.”
The LEgal Aid Crisis
This move is in response to a recent letter from Allen & Overy’s “pro bono partner”, South West London Law Centre, to Prime Minister Blair urging the Government to boost civil legal aid funding with a warning that, if it does not, within five years the poorest people could be denied access to justice altogether.
Across the legal profession – from the Law Society and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group to the Law Centres Federation and Citizens Advice – there is agreement that the Civil Legal Aid system is facing a crisis:
· the number of high street firms taking on work under the Civil Legal Aid system has decreased by 14% in the last two years and as a result, the number of people who have been helped has decreased by 28%;
· the fall in the number of Civil Legal Aid practitioners has lead to “advice deserts”, even in London itself, where those who are most in need have no access to Civil Legal Aid and ultimately justice;
· pro bono legal services are increasingly relied upon to replace services which previously would have (and should have) been provided by Legal Aid. These pro bono services are not designed as a replacement for legal aid and should not be used in that way.
The Allen & Overy donation will be in addition to its current community support and funding programme and it will be in addition to the 31,000 hours of pro bono work3 the firm already contributes in London. “It is important that the effect of each and every pro bono hour is maximised – it is essential that the legal advice network is properly funded to ensure these important services reach the people that need them most,” said Beringer.
Generating the funds
Allen & Overy will generate the funds through pooling of monies held in client accounts in to a single large sum on deposit3. Thus the funds will receive a higher rate of interest than each client account would receive if deposited individually. Allen & Overy will donate an amount approximately equivalent to the extra interest received through consolidating the funds to the London Legal Support Trust.
The challenge For Government
“We hope that a number of other firms will follow our example and will join the voluntary scheme. That will give us a joint platform from which we can challenge the Government to meet its obligations to those who rely on civil legal aid for their basic rights,” said Beringer.
Backed by the Legal Community
Edward Nally, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, said “The Law Society welcomes this excellent initiative which shows how willing solicitors are, in various ways, to provide access to justice for people who otherwise could not get legal help. However the Law Society warns the Government that the generosity of the solicitors’ profession does not absolve the government of its duty to provide a proper legal aid system.”
Steve Hynes, Director of the Law Centres Federation said: “The Law Centres Federation wholeheartedly support the Allen & Overy “client account interest” initiative announced today. Law Centres throughout the country are desperately short of funds to meet the need for social welfare legal advice. We have certainly appreciated the increasing help from City firms to Law Centres over the past few years and we would urge all of the larger commercial firms in London to join the scheme. We also hope that, in due course, the scheme can become national.”
Bob Nightingale, Chair of the London Legal Support Trust: welcomed the announcement saying: “This is a wonderful initiative. With both the voluntary sector and High street practice struggling to meet the need for legal help, this news could not have come at a better time. We are extremely grateful to Guy Beringer and Allen & Overy for pioneering such a valuable scheme to support services for the poorest and most disadvantaged sections of the community. Given the tremendous support already provided by City law firms we are confident that the scheme will become standard practice in due course”.
How to sign up
Parties interested in participating in this voluntary arrangement should contact Bob Nightingale, Chair of the London Legal Support Trust (on 020 8682 9160 or [email protected]).
For further information, please contact Kathryn Adamson ([email protected]) on +44 (0) 207 330 4685