Almost half of the law firms in Wales are experiencing problems as a result of the government’s reforms to the legal aid system, an annual snapshot of professional concerns reveals today.
The latest Law Society annual firm survey shows that 46% of law firms in Wales named ‘changes in legal aid’ as a significant or very significant problem for their firm.
By contrast only 15% of firms in the south-east and 19% in London placed the issue in those categories.
Overall, ‘complying with regulations on legal services provision’ was the most commonly cited concern, identified by 28% of firms, including 36% in the south-west and 22% in London. Changes in legal aid came second, reported by 24% of firms, up one percentage point from the previous year.
Number three was ‘cost of employing solicitors’, cited nationally by 15%, one percentage point up from the previous year. Again, there was a regional divide, with the problem cited as significant or very significant by 21% of firms in the north-west, but only by 12% in Wales and 13% in London.
For small and medium-sized firms, compliance with regulations was the most commonly cited, while for large firms, competition for business was the most frequently cited. Competition was most likely to come from volume providers and non-solicitor organisations, the firms reported.
The findings were based on 900 telephone interviews with senior representatives of law firms in England and Wales.
The Society said that the respondents showed that many solicitors believe that government proposals on criminal legal aid will bankrupt their businesses.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: ‘Our members’ fears are based on the findings of reports commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, and delivered by Otterburn LLP and KPMG. These reports set out that in many areas, particularly in rural areas and in London, the current proposals will be extremely damaging.
‘It is clear that changes to the legal aid system will have a significant impact in Wales, particularly the areas where KPMG indicated the cuts pose a very serious challenge, such as Amman Valley, Llanelli, Pembrokeshire, Colwyn Bay, Denbighshire, Mold and Wrexham.’
Caplen repeated his call for solicitors to respond to the MoJ’s latest consultation on the reforms, ‘with an evidence-based case about the realities on the ground, the impact of the cuts and the volumes of work on the viability of their firms’.