On 1 April 2013 the transition of the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) was completed.
I?m conscious that transition is likely to have prompted questions around how the changes will impact on you and your clients. My view is that you won?t experience much of a difference.
The purpose of the LAA is to ?Deliver legal aid efficiently and effectively as part of the justice system?.
This is a statement which is new, but a principle that has long underpinned the work of the LSC that preceded it.
Obviously, there are some practicalities to be aware of, such as the branding, forms to use, changes to email addresses and what will appear on your statements.
But our aim throughout the transition to the LAA has always been to keep the impact on you, and indeed to the organisation, as minimal as possible.
It is worth us considering the wider picture for a moment. We have been working against a challenging backdrop of significant and fast-moving changes in the legal aid market, the implementation of the Legal Aid Reforms, and the need to make further efficiencies.
Despite these challenges though, I think it is important that we continue to build on the collaborative working that we have all done in recent years to tackle change through partnership working.
One example of where this approach is working is the pilot group of providers and chambers in the North East.
They have been helping us to test our new civil online system to improve our payment and processing work.
We process more than 2.5m legal aid applications and claims every year. So improving the efficiency of our systems on the civil side will certainly be a benefit to us. But it will also help you as we work in a slicker way.
The involvement of providers and chambers in testing the system will be instrumental to its ultimate success when we roll it out, which we aim to do by the end of 2013.
The good news is that payment and processing is an area where a lot has been achieved already and we?ve been hitting our performance targets for the past 12 months. But we want to see further improvements to our turnaround times.
One area where I?m particularly keen to see progress is on reducing the number of legal aid applications rejected for reasons such as missing information or issues about client eligibility.
We will need to continue to work together on tackling these issues for the future.
Another area in which many of you have worked closely with us is the work we?re undertaking to continue to improve our financial checks and controls.
I?m also pleased at the significant uptake of our comprehensive training programme to help you all get to grips with legal aid reform and what it means for your organisations.
These were designed in consultation with your representative bodies and are complemented by online training courses. So I hope they are making the transition for you as smooth as possible.
This sort of active participation and dialogue is very important and that is why I think the stakeholder events we have run across England and Wales in recent years have been so successful.
Since the summer of 2011 around 3,000 of you have booked on to these Provider Reference Group events, where we outline our plans and talk with you about your concerns.
At the events we ran in November and December last year there was a particular focus on legal aid reform and the creation of the new agency
But we also looked at key issues such as the criminal justice efficiency programme and our work to improve case management.
We had similar messages to communicate at the regional Bar Reference Group events that were held jointly with the Bar Council in February and March this year.
New challenges ahead
The Government has announced its intention to consult on price competition for criminal legal aid. Colleagues from the Ministry of Justice have been speaking to representative groups and bodies about these intentions ahead of launching the consultation.
That will present more changes for the sector, accompanied by other reforms such as the rollout of digital working in the criminal justice system.
As changes are announced, our focus will be to ensure that they are implemented as effectively as possible. We will continue to engage and work with you as we do this.
I look forward to working with you to make the legal aid system as successful as we can.
Matthew Coats, Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Agency