Some experienced solicitors are shunning legal aid work as pay rates fall, a recent survey shows.
The Guardian reports that solicitors are deserting legal aid work amid a shake-up of the scheme which will see their pay rates drop further. The exodus is particularly acute among expert lawyers who represent children and parents in cases where local authorities are threatening to take the children into care. The departure of some of the leading specialists raises concerns about the quality of representation for parents at risk of losing their children, who often face complex medical evidence which is hard to rebut.
A recent survey by the Association of Lawyers for Children, whose members act for parents and children in care cases, found that one-third of individual solicitors and 40% of law firms planned to reduce their reliance on legal aid work.
The survey found 17 solicitors, most with many years of experience, who had already left or were planning to leave the law altogether or move to jobs outside legal aid. One solicitor reported that she had been contacted by a woman seeking an emergency injunction against her violent partner: “I was the 22nd solicitor she had tried.”
Solicitors are also threatening to pull out of legal aid criminal defence work as the Legal Services Commission (LSC), which runs legal aid, introduces a range of new fee schemes from next week. These extend changes from last April and replace hourly rates with fixed fees, to be followed by a move to competitive tendering in a year or two.
One leading firm, Fisher Meredith of south London, has given notice, after 30 years in the field, that it will stop doing criminal legal aid work from next March. The firm has been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including representing detainees in the 21/7 attempted bombings and one of the youths acquitted of murdering the schoolboy Damilola Taylor.