LSC responds to civil bid consultation

Young Legal Aid Lawyers “gutted” by LSC U-turn on supervisor ratios that may have disastrous impact on quality for clients

YLAL was disappointed to hear that the LSC plans to reduce supervision ratios to 1 supervisor to 6 fee earners in its response to the civil bid consultation published yesterday, 30 June 2009. The former proposal of 1:4 (see the recent civil bid consultation) was already too high for some areas of legal aid work according to the results of a survey conducted by YLAL in January of this year.

In its response to the original consultation, YLAL argued that the right supervision ratio requirement is crucial to maintain the quality of advice that clients receive. Junior fee earners need the support and guidance of their supervisors to ensure that they can comply with their professional obligation to act in their clients' best interests. Whilst we understand the need for firms and organisations to structure themselves viably, the interim findings of our survey suggested that 1:4 - let alone 1:6 - was considered too high to ensure quality supervision: 83% said that that 1:4 supervisors to caseworkers, would not be suitable in all areas of legal aid work and the vast majority of respondents believed that as a maximum a supervisor should supervise no more than 2 trainees.

Commenting on the response, YLAL’s chair, Laura Janes said that:

“YLAL members are gutted that the only effective concession to ensure quality in the civil bid consultation has been watered down, threatening the ability of junior lawyers to be able to provide a public service with confidence. Given the vital importance of good quality civil work, especially in a recession, we hope that the LSC will reconsider its position carefully.”

YLAL believes that one ratio cannot be applied across the sector if it hopes that supervision ratios will promote quality work. Supervision ratios must reflect the different dynamics in different areas of work and the experience of the supervisor. YLAL believes it is essential to define the minimum level of experience that supervisors must have before being allowed to undertake this important role.

YLAL member, Omar Khan, who has recently completed his LPC commented that:

“Any supervision ratio is ineffective and might as well not be imposed at all if the LSC does not take steps to vary ratios within sectors according to the experience of the supervisor as well the experience of those being supervised. Junior lawyers want to be confident that they have the right support to do a good quality job from the outset.”

One respondent to the survey commented that changes to legal aid have already had an impact on the levels of supervision, noting that “since the fixed fees regime the level of supervision has changed dramatically as my supervisor has to supervise many more lower level staff. I benefited from being a paralegal before the reforms and having almost one on one supervisionbut people coming into the system now are not experiencing the same as I did when I first started and I am afraid that later on that will translate to big gaps in knowledge.”

The results of a YLAL survey into supervision ratios within legal aid firms are being published soon. They underline the concerns we are expressing about the LSC's decision to dilute its assurances about supervision and quality of work. In practice low supervision requirements will make it impossible to maintain standards and clients' access to justice will suffer.

YLAL responded to the LSC’s consultation on civil bid rounds for 2010 contracts on 23 January 2009. To see the response CLICK HERE.