Legal Aid

Misleading Minister

PUBLISHED March 9, 2007

I was astonished to read the legal aid minister, Vera Baird QC, saying that changes to fixed fees will benefit lawyers, firms and their clients (see [2007] Gazette, 1 March, 12). This is dangerously misleading.

Fixed fees will work only where cases are simple with no complicating factors. The reality of legal practice is that complex issues routinely arise requiring specialist expertise. Fixed fees without adequate escape routes will not provide adequate reward for solicitors with a complicated case mix. For example, the fixed fee for homelessness cases is ?171, which equates to roughly 3.5 hours? work. At present, the average amount of work in a homelessness case is six hours if there are no temporary accommodation issues, and eight with them; hourly rate costs of approximately ?300 and ?400 respectively. Housing solicitors will not be able to continue under a regime that in this example would see them receive roughly half the already meagre payment.

We have experienced cuts in real terms over many years and have now been told the legal aid budget will be fixed until 2009-10. Firms that are barely profitable at present will inevitably be forced out of business by the introduction of fixed fees. This is hardly in the interests of clients.

Andrew Holroyd, Law Society Vice-President, London