Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Legal Strike action and what it means for you…

Legal Aid funding has been cut. A fact we know far too well. It is crippling both legal firms and clients across the country.

This has resulted in barristers considering and actually taking strike action. But what could this mean for a legal firm and how does it affect the most vulnerable of your clients?

Whether you agree with the action or not it is undeniable that the effects of the strike action is being felt across the legal sector. Legal Aid is a publicly funded service which, unlike the NHS or schools, doesn’t seem to tug at the heartstrings quite the same way. This may be as a result of the stigma attached to Legal Aid cases funding cases of murderers and terrorists for example. What the public seem to forget is that legal aid is also for family matters, complicated divorces for those that are on a low income…and there are children involved and suffering at the heart of it.

The most recent strike action has seen a resulting surge in the public attempting to represent themselves. With little to no idea what the protocol in court is, court officials scrabbling to get documents together where they can and judges attempting to cross examine both parties the chaos the government cuts have caused is undeniable.

Whilst legal aid work is notorious for being less profitable than private client work, sometimes paying not much than the travel costs to get to the court hearing, it protects the most vulnerable members of our society and ensures that the public have their full Human Rights as dictated by the 1998 legislation.

So what does the recent and potentially upcoming strikes mean for your firm? Well, the courts haven’t just closed due to the actions, things have carried on as normal, but there is speculation that the complications caused from the public attempting to represent themselves may delay hearings for your privately funded or corporate clients.

Whilst barristers are only protesting publicly funded work, any clients that you have being supported by legal aid may need careful consideration as to who their barrister will be. If the situation does not improve the refusal to represent clients in court may result in a severe shortage of appropriate representation for your clients.

Your clients in turn, who may be considered vulnerable will likely need additional support from the firm as a whole. This may include an increase in communications from worried clients all of which is a stretch on your own resource.

Unfortunately, with the ultimate decision up to the government and the decisions they make on the budget there is little else that can be done. Perhaps the best hope is that supporting the cause to ensure that publicly funded cases are appropriately paid in whatever way you see fit will push the government to restore the legal aid budget.