Should conveyancers help plug Legal Aid gap?

Impending cuts to Legal Aid have led to the suggestion that interest from lawyers’ trust accounts (IOLTA) should be used to help fund access to justice.

The director of the Law Centres Federation, Julie Bishop, has reignited the idea that client money held by firms is pooled, and the interest generated used to fund law centres and other advice services.

But should it be the responsibility of firms to foot the bill? Or should the government look to find the money elsewhere?

It was suggested that the scheme could be voluntary with the Law Society recommending it to members. If this were to be the case how successful is it likely to be in raising funds?

With interest rates so low, Bishop conceded a national scheme would be needed in order to make it worthwhile, but accepted that even at its most effective, it would be a ‘drop in the ocean’.

Bishop suggested that law firms that already run local IOLTA schemes could opt out of any national project so they can continue to focus on issues in their own areas. She said: “The beauty of IOLTA is that it is an easy way to increase access to justice with no cost to the taxpayer, lawyers or clients.

“The sums raised are relatively small to a large city firm but are very significant to the recipient.”

She added that an IOLTA scheme is also symbolic: ‘It shows that the legal community is united in the fight to protect access to justice.

“It also shows the government that we’re leaving no stone unturned to protect our clients.”

A Law Society spokesman said: “Redistribution of IOLTA is just one of many ideas emerging from the debate on helping those on low incomes to access justice, all of which will be carefully considered.”

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