Publicly funded private family law cases fell by 83% between April and June 2014, according to new government figures.
Analysis of quarterly data published by Legal Aid Agency (LAA) by divorce and separation service Lawyer Supported Mediation will be a wake up call for the 1200 law firms offering publicly funded family law services.
Lawyer-Supported Mediation looked at data for the main categories of private family law casework being targeted by The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO). These were: Private law Children Act proceedings, Financial provision and Other family proceedings.
In first quarter of 2014/15 (April to June), the combined number of completed certificates for the aforementioned private family law categories, stood at 10,227. In sharp contrast, the number of certificates granted for the same period stood at 2366.
Lawyer-Supported Mediation points out that the ratio between the two totals underlines how LASPO will decimate casework levels in the years ahead. Total certificates granted for April to June 2014 amounted to just a quarter of number of corresponding cases completed in the same period.
The analysis also looked at the same quarter of 2012/13, the last full financial year before LASPO was enacted. In this period, the corresponding number of certificates logged as completed by the LAA stood at 14,168 while the number of certificates granted stood at 13,687. The difference between the two totals was a mere 3.3%.
More importantly, the year-on-year quarterly comparison shows the number of certificates granted by the LAA fell from 13,687 to 2366, a drop of 83%.
Marc Lopatin, trained mediator and founder of Lawyer Supported Mediation, said: “The plummeting number of certificates being awarded shows LASPO in motion. Law firms overly dependent on legal aid revenues will need to find ways of earning more private fees. They will have to attract new clientele by offering services that private law firms will not. This is all about offering price certainty and affordability while balancing risk and return.”
Lawyer-Supported Mediation warned that many law firms might still not be alive to the forthcoming drop in revenues. Costs met by the LAA for the aforementioned private family law services only dropped by 9% between April and June 2014, compared to the same period in 2013. This is because on average publicly funded private family cases take 84 weeks from the granting of a certificate to final payment.
Elsewhere, quarterly data released by the Ministry of Justice revealed that the number cases featuring ex-partners going to court over child arrangements or finances fell to 9,291 between April and June 2014. This is a drop of 40% compared to the same period in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of publicly funded mediations that got underway between April and June 2014 fell by over 50%, compared to the same period in 2012, when legal aid was still in place for referring solicitors.