LETTER:Cash-limiting plans will hurt the lawyers' `patients'

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From Mr Stuart Paris Sir: As a solicitor practising in a provincial town with a large proportion of practice income derived from legal aid, I was dismayed to read your recent editorial welcoming the Lord Chancellor's latest plans to "put the knife" to the lawyers.

As a profession we have come to accept that there will never be any public sympathy coming in our direction when there is news of a cut in the potential fees or income of lawyers. However, the truth is that there is much public misconception about the level of solicitors' fees and income, fuelled by the sort of attitude expressed in your editorial and no doubt welcomed by a Chancellor who is largely treasury and politically led.

That misconception is erroneously based on the assumption that all lawyers are "fat cats" able to charge exorbitant fees and enjoy a professional life insulated from the commercial realities.

While that may to some extent be true of a very small percentage of non-legal aid large city practices, it is certainly not the case for the average provincial solicitor who depends on legal aid work to provide an income and, let us not forget, a serviceto clients who otherwise could not afford to seek justice.

The reality for the vast majority of my colleagues across the country is that they work long and hard for their clients in return for fees which are no more than adequate and in an environment of increasing commercial and bureaucratic pressure.

As a profession we are a divided nation - on the one hand the big city lawyers who would not touch a legal aid case with a barge pole and who service a tiny minority of the well-off and corporate clients, and on the other hand the great majority of provincial lawyers who service the general public for relatively modest returns by the standards of any profession.

Legal aid has never been the blank cheque your editorial implies and while the system undoubtedly needs overhauling, the Chancellor's past and present plans will do nothing to hit those lawyers whose high fees make the daily papers, but will most certainly hit again the average country practice and their ordinary citizen clients who will see the oft-quoted "network of legal services" begin to fade away, the privilege of only the rich and corporate client.

Yours faithfully, STUART PARIS Lincoln 13 January