A claimant firm that advertised for victims of the Magdalene laundries has rejected accusations it is using the notorious Irish scandal as a ‘cash cow’ for lawyers.

London firm Hodge Jones & Allen was criticised in the Irish media after it placed advertisements asking for women to come forward who had been detained in institutions run by Roman Catholic nuns to work with no pay between 1922 and 1996.

In February, the Irish government issued a full apology to the women and is in the latter stages of a three-month review, led by president of the Law Reform Commission Judge John Quirke, to consider a compensation package for around 800 surviving victims.

Patrick Allen, senior partner at HJA, said the firm was instructed as far back as 2002 by former laundry workers to help them obtain compensation. HJA spent four years seeking ways to bring a test case in the Irish courts to establish the women’s claims, and Allen said he was asked by a campaign group working with the Irish government to devise proposals for a compensation scheme.

‘The real story here is the role of the Irish state in refusing to acknowledge for many years its responsibility for the conditions in the laundries until required to do so by the United Nations,’ said Allen.

‘We consider it unrealistic to expect applicants to the scheme to manage without any legal assistance in the preparation of their claims. They will be old and vulnerable and the quantification of damages will not be straightforward.’

A spokesperson for the Irish government said details of the compensation scheme would be announced later this month. She added that Judge Quirke has been ‘asked specifically to advise on a scheme that ensures the monies in the fund are directed only to the benefit of eligible applicants and not on legal fees and expenses’.

The justice department said HJA had ‘no input’ into the drafting of a compensation scheme, but that the firm had sent a letter in October 2011 suggesting such a move.