It’s a rollercoaster ride, not a precipice

The Law Centres’ annual conference always provides an opportunity to take stock. We review the past twelve months and look at what the future holds. This year was no exception. I was delighted to see that over 75% of Law Centres managed to attend our conference in November, held in the excellent facilities kindly provided by DLA Piper.

As expected, the last year has been very difficult for both LCN and Law Centres. We didn’t manage to turn LASPO around although we should be proud of the few concessions we did win. It was good to see the government defeated in the House of Lords more than any time in the past 30 years. It’s great to see that even now these defeats are still going on!

With reduced legal aid from next April Law Centres will have an uphill struggle to continue to provide many of the services so vital to their clients and local communities.

The funding cuts were as bad as we’d feared. Like Law Centres, LCN has to cut its coat according to its cloth. Sadly we had to make redundancies. It’s always a wrench to see loyal hard-working staff have to leave.

The government’s Welfare Reform is as bad as we’d feared too. The future is grim for people on low incomes. Not only will their entitlement to welfare benefits and tax credits be severely affected after April, so will their ability to get the legal advice they need to enforce their rights. Law Centres and other radical legal practices now need to look for test cases so we can challenge these unfair reforms.

This is a rollercoaster that we’re on, not a precipice. We’re not over the edge yet!

We have spent the past two years planning for the difficult times ahead. We’re ready to face the challenges. Our strength comes from working closely together, and from the enthusiasm and dedication of Law Centres’ staff, trustees and volunteers. We’re determined to make our own destiny. We will hold our nerve and continue to fight for social justice.

Last year wasn’t all doom and gloom! There have been high spots too for the Law Centres movement. Several Law Centres passed Lexcel with flying colours. Two Law Centre solicitors – Hackney’s Paul Heron and Streetwise’s Carolyn Osbourne – came first and runner-up in the Law Society’s In-house Lawyer Excellence Awards for their work with young people.

Each year we present a Law Centre that has taken a particularly creative or innovative approach with the Reita Clarke Memorial Award for Excellence. This is a tribute to Reita Clarke, a trustee at Luton Law Centre and member of our Executive Committee who died last year. This year the award went to Coventry Law Centre for their creative approach to fundraising and their work with people with learning disabilities. Despite these dark times Law Centres continue to shine!

Fundraising has been a key priority, both for LCN itself and to help Law Centres access funding such as from the Cabinet Office Transitional Fund and the Advice Fund programmes. With new funding, LCN’s Young People’s Programme has increased access to justice for children and young people. Young people are joining Law Centres as apprentices and their number continues to grow. We have more funding applications in and we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Law Centres are finding more collaborative and cost-effective ways of working. South West London Law Centres is going from strength to strength. By coming together under a single structure they have been able to cope with cuts in legal aid and other funding and to plan their service delivery effectively. The three Law Centres in the South West of England are also setting up a regional structure to enable them to be more cost effective and to work more closely together.

An important milestone this year was our rebranding and the change of name from the Law Centres Federation (LCF) to the Law Centres Network (LCN). Our brand is now consistent at national and local level as Law Centres adopt the new logo. Our new website has received lots of positive feedback. The profile of the Law Centres’ movement has been raised. We will be recognised by the community as a quality free legal service for those in need.

During the past year we focused on doing everything possible to secure the survival of Law Centres and a future service for our clients. We’re on the right path and we know where we’re going. Our strength lies in working together. We will keep as many Law Centres open as possible. We approach the next year with baited breath but we are clear on what we have to do.

If you would like to know more about our activities over the past year please look at our Annual Report on the LCN website.


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