Letter: No win, no fee

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The Independent Online
Sir: Robert Willer (Letters, 28 November) argues that the Government's proposals for the reform of legal aid and extension of conditional fee agreements will benefit only large law firms. He suggests that small firms "may be crippled" if they lose even a few cases brought with conditional fees. I believe he is wrong on both counts.

On his first point, it is true that the Government's proposals, particularly block contracting, will encourage specialisation by lawyers. I see nothing wrong with that. Through block contracting, legal aid expenditure will be concentrated on services provided by competent, experienced advisers. Taxpayers' money should be spent on buying high-quality services from lawyers who have a thorough understanding of the law at issue. Privately funded clients would expect nothing less. There is no reason why a small firm should not benefit from greater specialisation, just as a large one can.

In the post-reform world, I believe there will still be a place for small firms in small towns to offer a valuable, general service. But the availability of legal aid funding will depend in large part on the plans which are made by local people in the Regional Legal Services Committees.

On Mr Willer's second point, both large and small firms will need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of assessing and managing risk; and it may well be true that some firms will not adapt and will not survive. As the Lord Chancellor said in Cardiff, conditional fees are about taking the rough with the smooth. There is no reason why a well-managed, competent small firm should not find itself better off, not worse off, by using conditional fees.


Parliamentary Secretary

Lord Chancellor's Department

London SE1