Legal aid firms are still reluctant to make critical decisions to ensure their survival, a Law Society conference heard today.

In his keynote speech, legal business guru Professor Stephen Mayson (pictured) of University College London said there were three elements to a business strategy: who do you act for, what do you do for them and where do you do it.

‘All of these can be affected or impacted by how you choose to position your legal aid practice,’ Mayson said.

‘In relation to clients, if you want to be in legal aid, do you want to provide help to everyone who might be eligible for legal aid or are you going to take a segment of that potential body?

‘Are you going to have a mixed economy of non-legal aid and legal aid work? How are you going to set up your firm and target your business development and marketing to those two very different audiences?

‘Are there benefits to consolidating all your legal aid work in one location? If you’re not doing everything for everyone, do you turn one of those offices into a centre of excellence or specialisation?’

Mayson said many firms found it ‘difficult’ to answer such ‘pretty obvious’ questions.

‘They do not want to answer them. By saying “this is what we’re going to do”, you’re saying by implication “this is not what we’re going to do”.’

Mayson said firms needed to ‘balance the tension’ between cost, price, value and relationship.

But he said the business approach to legal aid was ‘no different’ to any other business approach to legal services. ‘It’s about using the business model to deliver your strategy.’

The first element of a business model was the question of delivering value, he said. Not all case outcomes, such as securing a person’s liberty or preserving someone’s nationality, had a monetary value. But Mayson asked solicitors how they were ‘best positioned’ to create that value.

‘When you can answer that, you’re in a better position to say what resource do you need to deliver that.

‘Can you use non-lawyers instead of lawyers? Can you use technology instead of human beings? Do you have to do everything in real time… or can you do it virtually?’