Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Legal aid shenanigans (1)

Charity Refugee and Migrant Justice are making a big fuss today about how the structure of legal aid means that they might close [1].

I'm a bit perplexed about what they are doing here for three reasons.

[A] Legal aid contracts have not yet been announced, so at the moment, they don't know what level of service they are contracted to provide from October... seems a strange time to go public on this...

[B] This structure has been in place for years. RMJ actually had it slighter better than most NFPs by being allowed a longer period of transition.

[C] Every other NFP legal aid provider I know is in the same situation! Why have they gone it alone on this one? Why not get some of the other big (and small) providers on board to add some weight to this, rather than coming across like it's only them who have the problem here.

Competition in the NFP legal sector is a concerning thing. These big organisations are more than happy to expand into cities and bid as rivals to take contracts from local providers who have been delivering well for years. Yet they lack the professionalism and the foresight to recognise that working together might have achieved more for the sector and for the people they all want to work to help than this kind of individual approach. I do not understand why they are going it alone on this one.

And, if the LSC budge on this, I'll eat my hat [2].

[1] For those not in the know, legal aid funding changed a few years back, so that rather than being paid on a monthly basis as work is done, they now pay providers only at the end of a case. For cases that might span months and years, this presented a significant challenge for the Not for Profit legal sector.

[2] The odds of (a) more blog posts appearing on here re Legal Aid and (b) me making this kind of daft statement again in the next few weeks are really not worth betting against.


Blogger Maisie said...

Good post Oscar.

<"legal aid funding changed a few years back, so that rather than being paid on a monthly basis as work is done, they now pay providers only at the end of a case.">

Sadly, criminal barristers (not the fat cats they are sometimes portrayed as) have been suffering the effects of this method of payment for many years, plus an additional wait of between 3 and 30 months after completion of the case (no exaggeration) for solicitors to get around to paying them.

Cashflow problems result and debt is common, as is having to write off large chunks of income as likely never to be received. I'm not sure how NFPs cope with this - don't seem the type of people to just think "sod it" and spend the afternoon in El Vino's caning the credit card.

Just thought I'd take the opportunity to rant a little.

03 June, 2010 17:00  
Blogger Robert said...

second Maisie on a good and original post Oscar. I know little about the subject other than the information you provided to me in the post so correct me if I'm of the mark.

It seems like RMJ are the market leaders (for want of a better phrase) so they are naturally more affected by late/delayed payments, which would mean they'd make most noise about the system.

As sector leaders, going it alone still attracts attention to an industry wide problem which is the central issue at play right?

It looks like the markets are at working in what you'd call "civil society", ironically a sector that's meant to cover market and government failures in this case.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is open to debate. Good stuff nonetheless and do shine some light on my ignorance on the subject.

04 June, 2010 20:20  
Blogger Oscar said...

RMJ hold a decent share of a subsection of the legal aid market. The total legal aid budget was about £2billionin 2008, and they have about £2million, by no means a market leader... It's also not simply a civil society market, it is split between profit and non profit making organisations, who by October, will all be working on the same contractural basis (though perhaps with some operational and ethical differences that I can cover at some other time).

And everyone else (barristers, NFP providers etc) have been campaigning against these changes for years. The point is, that by working together there may be more chance of change, why not get together? Why go it alone like this...

The issues Maisie and I describe above are hugely problematic, but as you say, not necessarily bad if handled right. My point is, they have got it wrong in their approach this time.

At the moment, the government has made no announcments regarding how the civil legal aid budget will play out past mid October 2010. Announcements are long overdue and I can't help fearing that this move by RMJ may delay it further.

It simply makes no good business sense to give out millions of pounds in contracts to an organisation that has declared itself to be financially unstable, when there are private sector and other NFP firms there who can and will pick up the slack. Especially when the numbers are so big.

Perhaps RMJ were looking for a Northern Rock style bail out? Unlikely.

05 June, 2010 10:29  

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