Shropshire Star Amy Bould Reports:

Law Firm committed to giving best service despite undertaking “a fruitless exercise” - Report by Amy Bould

A two year exercise which saw solicitors asked to compete for family law work has been branded a “fruitless exercise” by a Shropshire firm following a judicial review.

In 2008, the Legal Services Commission announced it would reduce the number of law firms carrying out family work in England and Wales by introducing competitive tendering.

This was calculated to not only save a significant amount of public funds but also ensure those firms of solicitors who remain, were ultra specialist in all areas of family law.

Earlier this year, Shropshire firm Terry Jones Solicitors and Advocates were given a contract by the Legal Services Commission which would mean the firm would be the biggest provider of publicly funded family work in the county.

However disgruntled solicitors left without a share of the work – the number of legal practices providing family law services being cut from 2,400 to 1,300 – mounted a successful challenge through the Law Society in the High Court.

The aftermath of the case means a two year consultation between the Legal Services Commission and law firms appears to have been a wasted exercise, with the Legal Services Commission going back to the drawing board to look at the practical issues surrounding family legal aid.

Solicitor Terry Jones admitted the implementation of the process had been fraught with difficulties but insisted the concept of competitive tendering made a “good deal” of sense.
“This firm like many others submitted its tender in February 2010 and was duly notified in July that its tender had not only been successful but it had been allocated significantly more case starts than anticipated based on the expertise within the firm’s family department and the range of services that the firm offered across the family law spectrum.
“To ensure the firm’s compliance with the new regime and the ability to cope with an anticipated increase in clientele, Sarah O’Neill transferred to the firm’s Telford office to assume control of all publicly funded work with a number of other in house appointments being made at both offices.
“In recognition of this firm’s considerable expertise in all areas of family law, complemented by the award of the contract by the Legal Services Commission, meant this firm would be the biggest provider of publicly funded family work in the county by far and accordingly those involved looked forward to the introduction of the new contract arrangements with considerable enthusiasm”.

Mr Jones said the upheld challenge to the process by the Law Society had thrown the future of publicly funded family law work into “utter chaos”.

Sue Fitzmaurice, who is head of the firm’s family law department, said: “The effect of competitive tendering over the last few months has been chaotic.

“Whilst we were delighted to be awarded by far the biggest contract of any firm of solicitors in Shropshire to undertake publicly funded work, which was subsequently validated, the whole process has been a fruitless exercise. “Nonetheless, the firm is committed to establishing itself as the premier firm in the county undertaking family law and has introduced a number of incentives aimed at this firm’s clientele receiving the best possible advice.”

Following the High Court decision, the firm has introduced a free half hour interview for all family/matrimonial clients at both its Shrewsbury and Telford offices and has confidently predicted a significant increase in the number of cases being undertaken.

Mr Jones added: “The firm is committed to providing a thoroughly professional and personal service across the entire area of matrimonial/family law and is able to provide the expertise and personnel who are able to deliver this service.”

 

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