Charging some clients fees for services is helping law centres survive funding cuts, according to the sector's annual review.
Law Centres Network chair Cheryl Weston (pictured) said centres were ‘certainly knocked but have bounced back in surprising ways’ in its annual 2014/15 review, Picking up the pieces.
Some centres have set up ties with non-legal services such as local clinical commissioning groups or other non-legal charities such as food banks, mental health and disability organisations, and domestic violence support projects, Weston said.
Some had ‘taken the controversial move’ of charging a fee from those who can afford to pay.
One such model, Weston said, was Rochdale Legal Enterprise, a not-for-profit solicitors' practice that works closely with Rochdale Law Centre.
The enterprise provides low-cost legal services to individuals on low and middle incomes across Greater Manchester.
After staff and running costs, any excess income generated from charges to clients is given to Rochdale Law Centre towards its free work.
Green Roots, a social enterprise owned by Islington Law Centre, offers legal services ‘at as low a price as possible to meet the legal needs of people who would otherwise go without a lawyer’, Weston said.
At the other end of the scale, she added, centres were involved in providing free legal advice and assistance in partnership with other groups and agencies.
In September the Gazette reported that law centres were seeking to raise funds for an IT upgrade that would enable them to provide innovative services.
Weston said the network hoped to establish a ‘baseline of hardware, software and communication capability’, including a case management system that would allow it to observe national trends and emerging issues earlier to develop strategic responses.
Taking access to justice ‘further afield’, the review states that the network will help to produce an ‘advocacy roadmap’ as part of its involvement in a project to share the Law Centre model across Balkan states in a project funded by the European Commisson.
The roadmap could be used by partners to ‘ensure that positive changes to the funding of and legislation supporting free legal aid, information and advice services are not rolled back’, the review states.
‘The unfolding refugee and migrant crisis of recent months has shown the importance of collaborative, joined-up action.’