‘Legal aid family law firms could face £100m fall in fees’

Relationship between barristers and solicitors could change following legal aid cuts

Over 1,200 high street law firms offering legal aid family services could face a £100 million shortfall in fees as publicly funded cases work their way through the family justice system, it has been claimed.

The estimate was reached by divorce and separation service LawyerSupportedMediation.com (LSM) which has analysed recently published Legal Aid Agency (LAA) data to calculate that the Ministry of Justice is on course to reduce its spending on solicitors’ fees by over £100m compared to 2012/13.

LSM say that when income from proceedings not targeted by government is stripped out (ie care proceedings and domestic violence), the LAA paid family solicitors £132 million in 2013/14 compared to £143 million in 2012/13. This represents a year-on-year saving of just 7%.

The prospect for 2014/15 is much bleaker, claims LSM. It looked at the number of certificates for civil representation being granted by the LAA to family solicitors in 2013/14. The first half of the year showed a spike in the number of certificates granted as family solicitors rushed through legal aid casework before the April 1st funding deadline.

However, the second half of the year (October 2013 to March 2014) showed that the number of certificates plummeted by 84% for disputes relating to child contact, residence and finance cases. Using this data, LSM estimated that the LAA would save £109 million on solicitors’ fees compared to 2012/13 – the last full year before the cuts were introduced.

LSM also predicted family barristers would also continue to suffer a fall in legal aid income as referrals from solicitors virtually dried up for impacted family proceedings. As a result, LSM estimated that barristers were likely to see income fall from £38 million in 2012/13 to £6 million in 2014/15.

Marc Lopatin, founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com, believes that the ramifications for the solicitor / barrister relationship could be profound.

“How impacted barristers respond will go some way to defining how family law services will evolve. To survive, barristers may have little choice but to start competing with solicitors for divorcing clients. If they do, this will break the historic referral bond between the two professions and create the colourful spectacle of fixed fee barristers being hired by clients with the express purpose of keeping them both out of court.”

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