Legal aid firms finding it hard to face reality – Mayson

Topics: Law Society activity,Legal aid and access to justice

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Legal aid firms are still reluctant to make critical decisions to ensure their survival, a Law Society conference heard today.

In his keynote speech, legal business guru Professor Stephen Mayson (pictured) of University College London said there were three elements to a business strategy: who do you act for, what do you do for them and where do you do it.

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‘All of these can be affected or impacted by how you choose to position your legal aid practice,’ Mayson said.

‘In relation to clients, if you want to be in legal aid, do you want to provide help to everyone who might be eligible for legal aid or are you going to take a segment of that potential body?

‘Are you going to have a mixed economy of non-legal aid and legal aid work? How are you going to set up your firm and target your business development and marketing to those two very different audiences?

‘Are there benefits to consolidating all your legal aid work in one location? If you’re not doing everything for everyone, do you turn one of those offices into a centre of excellence or specialisation?’

Mayson said many firms found it ‘difficult’ to answer such ‘pretty obvious’ questions.

‘They do not want to answer them. By saying “this is what we’re going to do”, you’re saying by implication “this is not what we’re going to do”.’

Mayson said firms needed to ‘balance the tension’ between cost, price, value and relationship.

But he said the business approach to legal aid was ‘no different’ to any other business approach to legal services. ‘It’s about using the business model to deliver your strategy.’

The first element of a business model was the question of delivering value, he said. Not all case outcomes, such as securing a person’s liberty or preserving someone’s nationality, had a monetary value. But Mayson asked solicitors how they were ‘best positioned’ to create that value.

‘When you can answer that, you’re in a better position to say what resource do you need to deliver that.

‘Can you use non-lawyers instead of lawyers? Can you use technology instead of human beings? Do you have to do everything in real time… or can you do it virtually?’

Readers' comments (10)

  • Clearly never ran a legal aid practice.

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  • You know its the end when they start talking to you as if you were babies.

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  • I have been in practice for nearly 40 years. Oliver Fisher has always had a "mixed-bag" of Legal Aid and private clients. Lords and Ladies sit in the same reception area as Somali refugees. This is a rather"green" and to my mind enlightened way of doing business. Having an office for the rich and a place for the poor seems rather 18th Century and certainly not the way I wish to practice.

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  • Is it a Law Society Gazette rule that to be regarded as a legal business guru you must never have actually run a law firm? Why do you give these guys house room?

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  • "Can you use non-lawyers instead of lawyers? Can you use technology instead of human beings? Do you have to do everything in real time… or can you do it virtually?’"

    is this person a mouthpiece of the law lords with their "lawyerless online court" wild ideas? (ironic comment) and is he for real? (as my teenagers would say)
    "Virtual" doesnt work for everyday non commercial work, many of my clients don't "do technology" . Besides, nothing beats seeing the whites of their eyes, that's how I judge whether a client is being less than truthful and that is how I decide whether to press on with arguments at Court (looking at the Judge's face). in many areas of the law (probate, family, etc) it is the personal, human, touch which is really important to people, who wants to deal with a faceless "virtual" computer "legal assistant" if their parent or sibling or child has just died or if they are splitting up from their spouse/partner. Finally I have grave concerns about who would be liable in a "virtual" or "lawyerless" situation. Who would the client sue if the virtual case manager cocked up? Sure as hell that person/robot wouldn't be insured....

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  • "The first element of a business model was the question of delivering value, he said. Not all case outcomes, such as securing a person’s liberty or preserving someone’s nationality, had a monetary value. But Mayson asked solicitors how they were ‘best positioned’ to create that value".

    They're not, because under the LA scheme they get paid a fixed sum which bears no relationship to the non-monetary benefit of having a legal system which is recognised as delivering just results.

    ‘When you can answer that, you’re in a better position to say what resource do you need to deliver that. ‘Can you use non-lawyers instead of lawyers? Can you use technology instead of human beings? Do you have to do everything in real time… or can you do it virtually?’

    Yes, for some things. But so far we don't have robots that can write letters, use the telephone, and decide what to argue at CMHs. Human judgement remains an essential part of this process. Delivering non-routine legal services means one on one contact. As I used to say to clients complaining about hourly rates, I can only deal with one person's case at a time, and if we could only make one screw per hour they'd cost £100 each as well.

    The implication of course is that there is no future in doing legal aid work, unless you accept you should earn the same or less than a bus driver. Which may of course be the value that society should place upon lawyers. And is of course the direction we have been heading in under governments of all descriptions since about five years after I qualified.

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  • I can see who is finding it difficult to address reality!!

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  • @Russell Conway17 March 2016 04:16 pm:

    "....Having an office for the rich and a place for the poor seems rather 18th Century and certainly not the way I wish to practice. ..."

    But that's the future and its so much a game changer. Stephen will tell you that a two tier IT industry is already in place, one for the proles (that crashes every other minute - and had it been supplied by Govt., would have been a proper universal industry- and one for those able to pay.

    Two teir IT and Legal Services Provision (throguh dodgy IT Schemes and IT 'Experts' (call it a kind of latter day South Sea Bubble extortion), don't you love it?

    Thats so 1700's ......

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  • "Are there benefits to consolidating all your legal aid work in one location?"
    I despair this comment alone indicates this person has no idea how a practice is run Also decision makers will here this and accept it as a reasoned comment whilst at the the same time claiming that its the lawyers fault cos they won't adapt

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  • By all means take me to task for views I express. However, this report is a serious misrepresentation of both the content and tone of my speech, and does not faithfully set out the views I actually delivered.

    For an alternative without the Gazette's inventive reconstruction, visit https://stephenmayson.com/2016/04/08/access-to-justice-as-a-business/

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