Quality Marked – Again
We are contracted with the Legal Aid Agency to provide legal advice and legal representation to those who qualify for Legal Aid. (We also have a Legal Aid Contract for family mediation).
Most of our legally aided cases involve social services or child arrangements or assisting clients who have been subjected to domestic abuse. We have obtained some good results for clients since we opened.
For example, we successfully assisted a parent who had lost a previous child to adoption, to be given a fair opportunity to show that she could parent her new baby. The outcome of the case was that she was allowed to keep her baby in her care.
In another case we required a local authority to respect the rights of learning disabled parents.In a complex case, we ensured that our client received a fair hearing and that all issues were properly considered.
We successfully assisted another parent to keep her child in her care despite a determined application by the Local Authority to have the child placed in long-term foster care.
We successfully assisted a mother to secure the return of her daughter from the care of her estranged parents. The child had gone to live with the parents during a difficult time in the mother’s life. That has since passed and the Court was satisfied that it was in the child’s best interests to live with our client and also with their sibling.
We assisted a mother to obtain a Protective Injunction against her former partner who had persistently harassed her. He then left her alone.
Specialist Quality Mark
A requirement of our Legal Aid Contract is that we hold the Specialist Quality Mark. This is a Quality Standard – which is independently audited – which requires us to operate with identifiable written processes which ensure that we are able to provide a quality service to clients.
The Specialist Quality Mark was originally granted to us in 2013 – during our first year of trading. The Quality Mark needs to be renewed every three years. At the beginning of August we were re-audited.
Holding the Specialist Quality Mark is not just about having the requisite written systems – Office Manuals, Forms, Reviews, Business Plans et cetera – it is about demonstrating that the quality systems are complied with and that business planning is ongoing.
The last year has been a period of transition for us. The firm has progressed from being just me, to us being a team of myself, Carrie Meikle (a Solicitor) and Karen Elliott (Chartered Legal Executive). We have a new Paralegal/Administrator joining us at the beginning of October. The growth of the practice has been very pleasing, but it is also meant making sure that our quality systems have been able to adapt to team working and that our systems are robust and effective.
I was very pleased when we passed our audit. The only problem that the auditor picked up was that I had forgotten to have an appraisal of myself in the last 12 months. That omission was corrected within 24 hours!
Committed to Legal Aid Work
Holding the Specialist Quality Mark is important. The audit will cover us for the next three years. Within this period the Legal Aid Agency will hold a tendering process and award/renew contracts to firms to enable them to continue to offer family law legal advice and representation.
I am conscious that in the last few years a number of practices have given up their legal aid contracts and ceased to offer legal aid to clients. It is likely that more firms will drop legal aid work when the new contracts are tendered for.
We are committed to assisting clients including those who are entitled to receive legal aid. Throughout my career I have assisted clients through legal aid and we intend to continue to do so in the future. The renewal of our Specialist Quality Mark puts us in a position where we should hopefully be able to be able to expand our legal aid service in the future.
Quality for all
Whilst the Specialist Quality Mark is applicable to legally aided work, the same systems and processes are applied to all of our clients.
The intention is that all of our clients receive a good service and all of our clients can have confidence that we have quality systems in place to enable us to look after their needs.
Our flat business structure and use of business centres means that we are able to keep our overheads down and work for our clients through lower hourly charging rates than traditional legal practices. I currently charge £160 plus VAT per hour. I am aware of a partner in a nearby practice of a comparable level whose time is charged at £265 plus VAT per hour.