A solicitor known for advising the Labour party and leading phone-hacking claims for high-profile public figures says he remains committed to legal aid, as his firm merges in the latest sign of rationalisation in the sector.

Today’s merger between London-based Steel & Shamash and Edwards Duthie, which has five offices in east London and Essex, creates one of the largest high street firms in London and Essex. The combined firm, Edwards Duthie Shamash, has 140 staff.

Steel & Shamash was set up in 1981 and was one of the first firms to be granted a Legal Aid Agency contract. Founder Gerald Shamash told the Gazette that the firm ‘remains very committed’ to legal aid. ‘I’m just hoping at some point this government will turn the tap back on.’

The annual £1.6bn spend on legal aid often mentioned by the government includes VAT, Shamash said. ‘It’s a disgrace. We’re a civilised society. If we cannot have access to justice what kind of society are we? It’s really sad.

‘The person you should really speak to is our receptionist, who’s having to say to people “I’m really sorry but we can’t take it on”.’

About 60% of Edwards Duthie’s work is legal aid. Shaun Murphy, senior partner, said the cuts the firm has been up against over the last few years ‘puts more and more pressure upon us. It creates an imperative for economies of scale. An opportunity emerged with Steel & Shamash which meets that imperative’.

Shamash and Murphy stressed there are no plans to cut staff. Murphy said: ‘The agenda is to make the firm bigger and better. We’re not looking to do the same for less. We’re looking to use the same amount of people to achieve more.’