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Legal Practice Management

LAA loses legal aid contract challenge

At a hearing in the High Court last week the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA) decision not to allow a London firm, MK Law Solicitors, to join an additional duty solicitor scheme was quashed.

The case arose out of reforms sought to be brought into effect by the Lord Chancellor to the provision of criminal legal aid. A policy of two-tier contracting was proposed to be introduced whereby criminal legal aid solicitors would be able to provide services to their own clients under an “own client contract” and separately under a “duty contract.” Awarded by competition, the duty contracts gave firms of solicitors that were successful the right to be on the duty legal aid rota in 85 procurement areas around the country.

Duty contracts allowed a limited number of firms to represent new entrants to the criminal justice system. Some 1,600 firms secured own client contracts. The intention of duty contracts for duty provider work (DPW) was to offer some 527 DPW contracts with the objective of forcing consolidation in the criminal legal aid market. It was hoped that if fewer larger firms performed DPW that service could be provided at less cost to the LAA.

The process of introducing the new dual contracts scheme was controversial and the results of the tendering process were the subject of litigation. On 28 January 2016 the Lord Chancellor announced in a written statement to Parliament that the dual contracting model was not to be proceeded with. The LAA was to extend current contracts so as to ensure continuing service until replacement contracts came into force late in 2016.

MK Law Solicitors had won 10 duty provider contracts in London, including four in north London. After the new 2015 crime contracts were scrapped, MK Law Solicitors sought to join additional duty schemes in the London Borough of Hackney and surrounding areas until replacement contracts come into force.

The judgment, MK Law Solicitors v Lord Chancellor, states that admission to the additional duty scheme was contingent on successful firms meeting certain criteria set out by the agency. The claimant’s case was that it came within the criteria set out; it was successful in the duty provider contract, had opened an office in Hackney at 2 Underwood Row, and had employed supervisors and staff to deliver criminal legal aid at its Hackney office.

The LAA said the firm was not eligible to be included in any additional duty scheme because the firm’s north London office had been operational since 2012 but this was contested. Ruling that the agency erred in its application of the criteria, Mrs Justice Patterson DBE said it was ‘clear from the evidence’ that the north London office was set up to be able to provide advice to clients if required. There was no contractual requirement that an office had to be manned and open for walk-in trade.

Patterson accepted the firm’s submission that to impose such a requirement was both irrational and a breach of contract as it had no ability to deliver criminal legal aid services from Hackney until the new contract had commenced. The firm invested further time and money to establish a fully functioning office in anticipation of the original duty contract start date. The office became fully operational in December 2015.

Patterson’s conclusion was that the evidence was sufficient to lead to a quashing order of the decision of the LAA regarding MK Law Solicitors. The full text of the judgement is at :

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2016/1194.html

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You cannot ignore the risks to your hosted data any longer

US District Judge Loretta Preska has told Microsoft that it must hand over customer information being stored in a data centre in Dublin to federal prosecutors. And she made it clear that her decision would stand wherever the data was stored overseas on the basis that ‘It’s a question of control, not a question of the location of the information’. In other words, customer emails and other account information held by Microsoft are business records that can be seized by the feds wherever they are. Read the full story

Posted in Civil Liberties, ilaw, Legal IT, Legal Practice ManagementComments (0)

Residency test

The Administrative Court has declared that the proposed residence test for civil legal aid is discriminatory and unlawful, following a successful judicial review challenge against the Secretary of State for Justice. In a damning unanimous decision, three senior judges declared the draft regulations now before parliament cannot be enacted by means of secondary legislation.

The case was brought by the Public Law Project, a national legal charity that promotes access to justice. Read the full story

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Best Value Tendering – at the double

In July 2005, Lord Falconer, then Lord Chancellor, asked Lord Carter to examine how to improve the arrangements for purchasing and procuring publicly funded legal services, particularly criminal defence services.

In his report, published in February 2006, Lord Carter recommended fixed pricing for all criminal legal aid work; a managed market, awarding contracts to efficient and good quality suppliers; and managed price competition between efficient, good quality suppliers. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal Aid, Legal Practice ManagementComments (0)

LawCare

The pressures of being a lawyer in today’s heavily competitive world are enormous. The recession has meant there is less business, with a great deal of competition for that business. The long-hours culture has reached epidemic proportions and the high expectations others have of lawyers, and lawyers have of themselves, carries a huge toll. Redundancy, practises failing and those left having to do more and more work for less and less money add to the burden. Read the full story

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High street law firms survey

On Monday the Law Society announced that, jointly with the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Board, it intended to commission research to understand more about ‘high street’ law firms, the main providers of legal services and legal aid.

The aim of the research is to understand more about the providers of legal services ahead of regulatory changes, the reforms to legal aid, and other significant changes in the legal sector. This research will act as an initial baseline with the potential for follow-up research to be commissioned at a later date to measure the impact of changes once they have bedded in. Read the full story

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Are solicitors’ clients often overcharged?

A new system of regulation for the legal profession has been introduced. In a move away from a rules based approach, outcomes focused regulation (OFR) is the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) new approach.

The SRA will be implementing OFR from 6 October 2011. It claims to be outcomes focused and risk based, and aims to provide clients with services that are tailored to their particular needs. OFR means that firms and practitioners will have greater flexibility in establishing how they can achieve the best outcomes for their clients. The SRA has published a handbook which underpins the regulation of solicitors, law firms and alternative business structures (ABS). It brings together all of the SRA’s regulatory requirements into a single structure and underpins the regulation of solicitors, law firms and ABS. It sets out ethical standards that the SRA expects of law firms and practitioners, and the outcomes that it expects practitioners to achieve for their clients. Read the full story

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The ‘Big Bang’ of Alternative Business Structures

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has expressed the hope that the advent of alternative business structures could have as dramatic an impact on legal services as the so-called ‘Big Bang’ of 1986 had on the financial sector.

He was speaking on Wednesday at the CityUK Future Litigation event held at the offices of Clifford Chance. He said: “As for domestic regulation, we are less than a month away from an historic change – the introduction of Alternative Business Structures on October 6 that will allow solicitors, barristers and other professionals to combine together in new ways, should they choose to, for the benefit of the consumer. Time will tell, but I hope that comparisons with the Big Bang in 1986 do not prove entirely fanciful.” Read the full story

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Regulation of Legal Services

Lord Hunt of Wirral was commissioned by the Law Society in October 2008 to advise on what was needed to establish best modern practice in the regulation of solicitors. His terms of reference were: Read the full story

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Warm Hands, Warm Hearts

One of my mother’s sayings was “cold hands, warm heart”. Now it looks as if that is in doubt, as American academics have set out to prove my mother wrong by testing the impact of warmth on the perceptions of adults. Read the full story

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