LSSA and Legal Aid Reforms

October 23, 2006

The LSSA has sent a challenging response to the Legal Services Commission’s paper ‘Legal Aid: a sustainable future’, the LSC’s consultation paper on the Carter reforms. The LSSA response contains a stark warning that the LSC timeframe for changes which require amendments to software by the majority of LSSA members is ‘unrealistic and unachievable’.

The response follows a history of grumbles and complaints about lack of consultation by the LSC and its predecessor administrators of the legal aid system which go back for more than a decade. The latest proposed changes might have been enough to edge LSSA members into despair but the response is essentially an aggressive one – and, since the reforms place a great deal of weight on changes in IT systems within the LSC and its provider firms, the challenge has the potential to apply real pressure. The LSSA response concludes with a summary of its concerns:

The LSSA, as representative of 87% of the legal aid market, needs to be made a stakeholder in any future consultations.

Our members need sufficient time to specify, develop, test and release software.

The proposed timescales are unachievable and it is likely that solicitor and legal aid providers will not have systems in place to comply.

The proposal to allow amendment to contracts at any time should be dropped.

There needs to be a central point for dispute resolution with regard to interpretation of LSC requirements under the contracts.

It is imperative that the LSC provides a testing facility.

A ‘kite mark’ should be established for any software that complies with the new standards.

Following consultation with us, a long term strategy needs to be published with key milestones.

Simon Meehan, Chairman of LSSA, told Computers & Law about the problems that individual legal software suppliers encounter with the rate of change and lack of consultation: ‘We are pleased to be given this opportunity to respond as for too long we have been concerned that our views have not been sought. Ultimately the success of any new contract relies upon the timely completion of software amendments by our members. However we feel that the LSC and other stakeholders in this process have not previously taken our views into account and I cannot see this approach changing given the timescales that they are proposing’.

Two major tests lie ahead for the LSSAA. The first requires it to persuade the LSC, which is itself under extreme pressure from the DCA, that they really must have more time. The second is to ensure that it does not break ranks – a claim to have achieved speedy compliance by one of its members will obviously undermine its position but the prospect of breaking ranks must be tempting for any member who can throw extra resources at the problem and gain the high ground when trying to sell in the publicly funded market.

For the full LSSA response, click here.