The Legal Services Commission (LSC) published the final version of its standard terms for the new unified legal aid contract on 26 February 2007. The unified contract will bring conditions for not-for-profit advisors into line with solicitors who carry out civil legal aid work. It is due to take effect for civil legal aid practitioners in April 2007. The LSC will be:
- issuing one contract per organisation rather than one per office. Each contract will contain a schedule setting out the work that individual offices can undertake;
- introducing new provisions relating to e-business and equality and diversity;
- setting a minimum number of new cases to be started by an individual office each year as well as a maximum;
- given the right to amend the unified contract when it considers it necessary or desirable to do so.
The Law Society immediately stated that its vigorous campaign to amend the contract had led to some small changes in the final version which improved it to an extent but that the contract still needed significant and fundamental revision to protect the interests of solicitors. The Law Society has published a detailed guide to the contract, prepared by its solicitors, which it urges members to read carefully: 'This contract moves the balance of power in favour of the LSC to a disturbing extent, whilst the government is pushing through legal aid changes that could lead to mass closure of legal aid firms.' For the guidance see www.lawsociety.org.uk.
The mediation organisations were no less disturbed. National Family Mediation said: 'Because of the unified contract solicitors will merge and combine to create larger firms of a more corporate type and soon the high street family solicitor may be a thing of the past. Solicitors looking to provide the best service for their clients may not have mediation providers in their area.' For the full news story see April  Fam Law.