Lime Legal

The practitioner’s friend

Published 21 October 2023

A review of Making Legal Aid Work: a handbook for practitioners

Vicky Ling and Simon Pugh, Legal Action Group, £40

Everyone working in legal aid will already know Vicky Ling and Simon Pugh’s previous publications. For them, legal aid is fundamental to the operation of a democratic society. However, they admit that 60 years after the Legal Aid and Assistance Act 1949, legal aid practitioners do not have an easy life.

The scheme has become complex and bureaucratic and the fees are considerably lower than private client fees. But in the midst of the Legal Services Commission’s (LSC) reform of the system, it is important to keep up to date with rules and guidance.

Failure could result in bills being rejected for technical errors, applications being refused for failing to explain a client’s case in the appropriate way, claims for payment being disallowed for using out-of-date forms or, in the worst cases, the loss of the contract under the LSC’s ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policy.

This one-volume guide to every aspect adopts a practical, hands-on approach, and covers both civil and criminal schemes. Case studies illustrate issues that are particularly confusing or challenging, with useful references to primary sources that allow the reader to look for more details.

It has fully referenced tables of cases, statutes, statutory instruments and European legislation as well as an excellent index, useful for both new caseworkers and experienced practitioners.

Part A of the book, ‘doing legal aid work’, is aimed at lawyers and caseworkers and takes the reader through the rules and regulations that govern the criminal, civil and family schemes. Chapter one offers detailed guidance on where to locate information and key documentation in the LSC manual and on the website.

The manual is 1,000 pages long, but even so it does not describe all the rules and must be supplemented by guidance, manuals, regulations and case law buried in the LSC’s website.

Chapter two, ‘taking on civil and family cases’, goes through all the influences on decisions to take on new cases. These include financial eligibility assessment, merit tests and other.

The following chapters cover conducting civil cases, family private and public law cases, immigration cases, mental health cases and family mediation and are all easy to follow. Chapters 10 and 11 deal with the issues involved in getting paid for the work.

Part B, ‘managing legal aid work’, is aimed at partners, directors, managers and contract administrators. It covers getting and keeping contracts and outlines the contract documentation, standard terms and obligations imposed by the unified contract and the civil and crime specifications. The first three chapters in this section deal with quality standards and performance monitoring from a management perspective, detailing compulsory requirements and key performance indicators.

Chapter 15 deals with financial issues such as reconciliation, payments on account and contract compliance audits, while chapter 16, ‘legal aid – the future’, includes information about the overall policy direction and its intended implementation in the future.

The appendices offer useful additional advice, including information for McKenzie advisers, new application checklists for civil and criminal cases, specialist quality mark definitions and guidance on cost assessment for both civil and criminal costs.

This 352-page volume is the most comprehensive guide to legal aid since the Legal Aid Handbook and an indispensable publication for every professional involved in running a LSC contract to provide legal aid.

Anna Socci is a writer and editor at Shelter.