The Legal Aid Agency’s procurement for civil legal aid work is descending into farce. On Friday night last week, just one hour and 48 minutes before new contracts were due to come into force, the agency kindly updated a few hundred practitioners who had yet to sign the relevant paperwork if they could carry on working the following day.
Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre solicitor Sue James summed up the predicament rather well. ‘Question: can you call yourself a legal aid lawyer when you don’t have a 2018 legal aid contract? Answer: I’ll tell you tomorrow.’
The answer was yes, but only for another seven days. The agency then subsequently and repeatedly reminded practitioners they needed to log on to an online portal to ‘execute’ their contracts. A bit difficult for some solicitors, who were met with a message stating ‘Bad Request: The request could not be understood by server due to malformed syntax.’
Who’d want to be a legal aid lawyer, Obiter would normally ask. Quite a few people, it turns out – if the agency will let them.