Legal aid cuts have proved a blow to region’s law firms

LAW firms in Yorkshire’s industry capital have been hit hard by Government cuts to the annual £2bn legal aid budget, according to an industry figurehead.

Alan Baker, chairman of Leeds Legal, said the decision by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke to take the axe to civil legal aid spending would make life very tough for law firms but backed them to emerge in a strong position because of their “hard-nosed expertise”. The city’s industry would be boosted by its growing ties with continental firms, such as in Barcelona, he added.

Mr Baker, an immigration judge, told the Yorkshire Post it would be “folly” to deny the impact of legal aid cuts on firms in Leeds.

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“Crime hasn’t materially been affected, apart from the cutback on prosecutions, but the civil side has been hard hit, particularly in the family and children’s sections where there is a great reduction in the legal aid available. Therefore not only is there an unmet need within society as a whole but the providers of that sort of work are similarly in difficulty because there isn’t the volume of work for them to do, however good they are.

“There have been some real cock-ups with the Legal Services Commission in terms of the allocation of resources to the profession and that has yet to be fully resolved.”

Mr Baker said many major property developers were now buying land for building projects and this created work for solicitors. The legal sector in Leeds has shown more resilience than those in others parts of the country because their overall borrowings were lower and because their amount of international work is expanding, he added.

“We like to think some in this part of the world are more prudent than others who got caught up in the City bubble.

“I am not despondent for the legal profession in this area. It is not an easy time but lawyers here with their experience, with their hard-nosed expertise will come out of it in as a good a position as could reasonably be expected to occur.”

Mr Baker and lawyers from Shulmans, James Love Legal and Lupton Fawcett spent three days in Barcelona last week to attend the first trade fair for the European legal profession.

Leeds Legal also had a 350,000 euro EU Commission funding package confirmed. The money will be spent on an exchange of lawyers, under the age of 35, between the two cities for at least three months and also a pan-European legal manual providing information for lawyers in Leeds, Barcelona, Milan, Lyon and Frankfurt. “This will encourage cross-referrals between the five cities involved, highlighting a growing opportunity for Leeds law firms to work with European counterparts,” Mr Baker said.

Hear more from Alan Baker at www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/business