Ministry of Justice
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New pilot to increase sustainability and efficiency of law centres

Legal Aid Minister, Willy Bach has strengthened the government's commitment to ensuring a sustainable future for social welfare law.

The Minister was launching a new project with the South West London Law Centre (SWLLC) to test a new business model for law centres.

Having heard about the financial difficulties being experienced by the SWLLC in September the Ministry of Justice responded with an offer of support. Over the past three months that support, which has been accompanied by investment from a number of large city firms, has developed into an action plan including:

  • an examination of the causes of the centre's financial difficulties
  • design and delivery of a turnaround package
  • a joint project between government, SWLLC, Law Centres Federation, city law firms and independent funders, evaluating the centre's experience of crisis and turnaround and using it to develop a new business model for more sustainable operations in law centres and other specialist advice providers.

Legal Aid Minister, Willy Bach said:

'Law centres deliver vital civil law advice and representation to hundreds of thousand people every year across England and Wales. They are responsible for transforming people's lives, helping them stay in their homes, keep their families together and get into employment and education.

'The government remains committed to ensuring that as many people as possible have access to social welfare legal advice, particularly at a time when many organisations are feeling the pressure and do need some extra support to see this difficult period through.

'By working with the SWLLC we can study the challenges faced by law centres across the UK and develop more sustainable operations and working methods that can be employed by law centres everywhere. The lessons learned from this project will be invaluable in assisting other Law Centres with building sustainable models.'

The programme includes a £235,000 commitment from the Ministry of Justice and an additional £80,000 from private funders including:

  • Access to Justice Foundation
  • Allen & Overy LLP   
  • Berwin Leighton Paisner   
  • Clifford Chance    
  • Clyde & Co    
  • CMS Cameron McKenna  
  • Weil Gotshal & Manges
  • Denton Wilde Sapte
  • Herbert Smith
  • Holman Fenwick and Willan
  • London Legal Support Trust
  • Lovells
  • Simmons & Simmons

The project will strengthen law centres' infrastructure and aims to identify new, more efficient ways of working and potential sources of funding for different aspects of law centres' work, including the range of central government departments, local authorities, charities, independent trusts and law firms.

Michael Ashe, SWLLC Chief Executive said:

'Today's award gives us an unprecedented opportunity to work with all stakeholders inside and outside of government to ensure there continues to be protection for the rights of people who cannot afford to pay for legal help.
'The generosity of the city firms and charities who have shown their support for the Law Centre so that we can continue to help over  25,000 people each year has been amazing.

'We are tremendously grateful to Lord Bach whose positive approach has increased levels of confidence amongst the city firms and charitable trusts to make this project possible.'

Susan Hazledine, Head of Social Investment at Allen & Overy, which has already provided SWLLC with extensive assistance, both financial and through the provision of expert skills, said:

'Given our longstanding relationship with SWLLC, we are pleased that the Ministry of Justice has provided it with support but the real goal is to establish a long-term solution for all legal advice centres. The future of civil legal aid relies upon the sector's ability to find creative ways to establish a quality, value for money service within the scope of the fixed fees structure. The support and expertise that firms like Allen & Overy can contribute we believe will go a long way in helping to establish a blueprint of best practice that can be replicated at law centres across the country.'

Julie Bishop, Law Centres Federation Director said:

'Today the Ministry of Justice, law firms and charitable trusts have come together to show their commitment to giving the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK access to justice. This pilot will help to strengthen all law centres so that they can continue to help save people's homes, protect people at work and make sure people get the care they need.'

A recent study by the Ministry of Justice, Legal Advice at Local Level, found that the introduction of a fixed fee scheme for provision of legal help has required many advice providers to improve their administration and financial systems. The SWLLC project to develop a new business model will offer a unique opportunity to identify the systems which can help providers manage their caseload and finances effectively in the context of fixed fees.

Notes to editors

  1. For media enquiries contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3513
  2. South West London Law Centres provide legal advice and assistance to people living across South West London. They have offices based in Battersea, Wandsworth and Merton, Croydon and Sutton, and Kingston and Richmond.

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