Firms face up to legal aid ‘limbo’

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A criminal defence firm in Leeds is turning to technology to ensure its survival as firms await the outcome of the Ministry of Justice’s tender for a reduced number of legal aid contracts.

O’Garra’s Solicitors has developed software that will enable fee-earners to take client instructions digitally, automatically generate bespoke client letters and email files to the office.

Managing partner Michael O’Garra said the firm was trying to increase efficiencies ‘knowing we’re either going to get one of these contracts and will be fielding a larger [procurement] area, or we don’t get one of these contracts and need to work a lot smarter to compete for work’.

The firm is currently on the duty provider scheme for Leeds. The ministry’s new contracts could see it cover the whole of West Yorkshire.

O’Garra said solicitors in the region felt like they are in a ‘total period of limbo’ as they await the outcome of practitioner groups’ recent talks with the MoJ on fee cuts as well as the outcome of the tender process.

Justice secretary Michael Gove last week thanked practitioner groups for ‘constructive dialogue’ during the course of a 52-day nationwide legal aid boycott prompted by the introduction of a second 8.75% fee cut for litigators on 1 July.

‘Thanks to the constructive dialogue that we have had with them and with [MoJ] civil servants, we are now in talks to ensure that access to justice can be enhanced and, at the same time, that the quality of advocacy improves,’ Gove told MPs.

Hours earlier, justice minister Lord Faulks defended the ministry’s reforms after Labour peer Lord Beecham, a former solicitor, tabled a motion of regret over the government’s Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration etc) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.

Faulks said the level of interest in duty contracts, knowing the likely reduction in fees, suggested there remains an ‘appetite’ to undertake criminal legal aid work under the new regime.

(Courtesy of Law Gazette)