The chair of the Legal Services Commission, Sir Bill Callaghan, has said everyone working in legal aid needs to think about their "responsibilities, be realistic and show imagination".
In an address to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum in London yesterday, Sir Bill said responsibility means "accepting the need for dialogue and working together as the government presses ahead with difficult choices".
He stressed the need to be "realistic given what is happening in other areas of public spending across government and within the Ministry of Justice".
Sir Bill said: "Even with our existing budget we would need to find improvements in the legal aid system. This isn't a job with an end date.
"Those improvements must be ongoing to build respect from the taxpayer and ensure the legal aid fund continues to be valued."
He flagged up the value of mediation as "a high quality alternative that is particularly useful for resolving family disputes" and said the LSC also supported "the greater use of telephone advice on civil matters".
He said: "I'm proud of the way our staff have addressed head on criticisms made by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.
"We've been robust and imaginative in looking for greater efficiencies, new ways of working and improved financial controls on payments from the legal aid fund."
Sir Bill's comments come as the Law Society launches a new campaign to raise awareness of what the legal aid cuts could mean for members of the public, in advance of the 14 February deadline for responses to the government's legal aid green paper.