I have started this thread so that we can all report on the losses as they happen. Please feel free to chip in from local knowledge. Remember that there are currently 1600 firms with criminal contracts, many of them small niche practitioners. Only 527 contracts for duty work will be awarded this year, so clearly hundreds could close.
I'll kick off the thread with this firm's closure in Burnley:
"A Burnley and Pendle law firm – the merger of a number of historic local firms – has gone into administration. Steele Ford and Newton Solicitors has closed its Burnley, Nelson and Bacup offices and brought in administrators Leonard Curtis from Manchester.
The directors took the decision that there was no long term future. The Burnley Express believes that Government cuts in the Legal Aid budget had forced the closure on June 18th.
The original Nelson-based Steele Ford and Newton – an offshoot of the historic Steele and Sons firm – merged with Burnley firm JGT in 2012. The firm dealt primarily with criminal law, family law and personal injury.
Criminal solicitor Nick Cassidy, who was one of the directors, has now moved to Burnley firm Donald Race and Newton. He said: “The directors took the decision that there was no long term future, chiefly due to cuts in the Legal Aid budget which are affecting small high street firms. All our clients have been notified. The majority of our criminal law clients will stay with me.”
The cutting of Legal Aid has been a controversial subject in recent months, with solicitors and other legal professionals fearing it will lead to the closure of many high street firms and jeapordise people’s access to lawyers."
Post by Colin Henderson on Jul 28, 2015 20:25:02 GMT
While we wait for the body count to rise, the Agency have disclosed which civil firms have had their contracts terminated since LASPO hit in April 2013. Remember these do not include criminal firms, nor are they the many firms or NfP agencies which have simply given up the work. It is only those that have either gone bust or transgressed the contract rules so badly their contracts have been terminated:
We have reported the NfPs on the list previously, but it's also instructive to note the private practices that have gone bust and/or those that, if they have continued, have had to stop providing legal aid. Some were big outfits and most lost several legal aid contracts (though possibly not all). Breaking them into the two main categories and in chronological order (most recent last) they are:
Liquidations: Atteys - Leeds Trobridges - Bristol Challinors - London Birmingham Law Centre Harris Cartier - London & Reading Leeds Law Centre Affinity Solicitors - Nottingham Harlow Welfare Rights Swinburne & Jackson - Newcastle Bake & Co - Birmingham
Terminations of contract: Orion solicitors - Cardiff French & Co - Nottingham Hull & East Riding CAB K J Commons - Cumbria Ahmad & Williams - Nottingham TW solicitors - London Rex Makin & Co - Liverpool PD Law - Cardiff James A Evans - Manchester Cyril Jones - Cardiff FLK Solicitors - London Follett Stock - Bristol Lancasters - Leeds CW Law - London Cleveland & Co - London Reiss Solicitors - Leeds Central London Law Centre Shadia & Co London Scudamores - London Cambridge Immigration Legal Centre Enfield Family Law Enfield Somali Community Association Blakemores - Manchester Peters & Co - Cambridge David & Snape - Cardiff Derby Law Centre (2 contracts) Samuel Louis - London Padi - London Burton and Burton - national JR Jones - London SAM Solicitors - London ABM Solicitors - London
Post by Colin Henderson on Oct 4, 2015 15:08:01 GMT
OK here's the first big casualty of the year, and it's VERY big and VERY serious:
"The Legal Aid Agency revealed today that it has referred concerns about London firm Blavo & Co to the Metropolitan Police after terminating all legal aid contracts with the firm. Blavo, one of the UK’s largest providers of mental health legal services, announced yesterday that it was restructuring and consulting on redundancies, blaming cutbacks in legal aid.
A spokesperson for the LAA told the Gazette that the agency had ‘identified significant concerns about claims from this firm, and, as a consequence, has stopped payments’. The spokesperson said: ‘We have now terminated all legal aid contracts with them and referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police.’
Blavo & Co senior and managing partner John Blavo told the Gazette: ‘I can confirm that we are in dispute with the LAA. It would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this stage although we will fully co-operate with any enquiries if required to do so.’
The firm employs more than 240 staff across 18 offices in cities including Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. Its head office (pictured) is in London. In a statement to the Gazette yesterday, Blavo said: ‘In line with many legal firms, we have revenue streams which are derived from legal aid, enabling us to provide high-quality legal advice to often vulnerable members of society with mental health issues. However, the knock-on effects of legal aid cutbacks have severely impacted upon the number of cases we are allowed to be paid for in this particular area. We have also considered productivity after a recent staff performance review.’
Blavo said he had no choice ‘other than to restructure the firm’. All staff at Blavo & Co have been informed of potential redundancies across all departments and offices, Blavo said in yesterday’s statement."
As far as I could tell, Blavo & Co grew up rather under the radar over the last decade or so to run dozens of contracts nationally. The termination of contracts will presumably leave thousands of clients stranded - and no news yet on the contingency plans for ongoing cases. I only dealt with them once and got the impression they had a very, erm, "commercial" approach to the work, but the implications of fraud on the Legal Aid fund put this "restructure" into a whole other territory. Does anyone know more that they can publicly post bearing in mind the police referral?
Post by Colin Henderson on Oct 6, 2015 18:39:03 GMT
Wanna buy a national legal aid firm?
Was a nice runner but has just been involved in a major incident - damage unknown - has run out of fuel and is currently banned from public (ly funded) roads. Any offers over one standard Legal Help fixed fee considered.
Sorry, couldn't resist, but it's not funny if you are staff or clients of Blavo & Co. Pretty crass of the owners if they are trying to cash in on a fire sale, especially after hinting their own staff had poor productivity, or are they just trying to ensure some continuity in that the LAA might reinstate contracts if the previous management get out quickly?
Whatever the truth and however it ends up this is a huge mess:
"Blavo & Co appears to have been put up for sale just days after the Legal Aid Agency referred concerns over the London-headquartered firm to the Metropolitan Police after terminating all its contracts.
Accountancy firm Armstrong Watson issued an email this afternoon advertising the sale of a solicitor’s practice, with a closing date of 12 October for indicative offers. The accountancy firm would not reveal the name of the practice to the Gazette. However details in the email state that the firm in question is the UK’s leading mental health practice, and has a turnover of £11.1m for the year ended 31 March 2014 with after-tax profit of £1.2m. These financial details align precisely with those disclosed in Blavo & Co’s statutory accounts filed at Companies House.
Armstrong Watson says the unnamed firm has over 3,500 live case files – 85% legal aid and 15% private sector. The advertisement adds that the firm has 16 offices across the UK with over 200 staff specialising in criminal law, family, immigration, housing, employment, welfare, personal injury and commercial and business law.
Today our criminal colleagues also know their fates. A few cocky characters (yes I mean you Tuckers) have confirmed their successes on Twitter. BUT the majority of bidders who will have lost out may not take it, as in an extraordinary whistle-blow one guy who worked on the bid evaluation has gone public on the unfair shambles it became:
"Freddie Hurlston who worked as a bid assessor for the agency between July and September this year, has contacted the Gazette to make a number of incendiary claims about the staffing and assessment process. So inadequate was the LAA’s handling of the exercise that the Cabinet Office eventually became involved, he alleges.
‘It is generally accepted as best practice in public sector procurement that suitably qualified staff are used, that they are properly trained for the job and that a timetable is followed that allows due consideration of the bids. None of these best practice objectives were met.’
Hurlston, who was previously head of criminal justice system initiatives at the Legal Services Commission, said many of the staff assessing the bids were from Brook Street temporary staff agency on around £9.30 an hour and had no knowledge of legal aid or previous experience of public sector procurement. He said the ‘very limited’ training did not cover specific issues for each question in the procurement exercise or what to look out for when awarding points.
The agency received around 1,000 bids. Hurlston said there were 17 questions in each bid and the questions were sub-divided into three or four parts leading to a total of around 50,000 answers to be assessed. ‘It was clear after a few days of assessment that there were insufficient staff to assess all the questions with any quality. Brook Street staff were told, contrary to their hourly rate contracts, on 2 September that they would not be [fully] paid unless they assessed 35 questions a day.’
Hurlston said daily performance figures were posted on a board in the assessing room. Members of the team who did not meet the daily target rate were sacked, ‘placing pressure on quantity rather than quality on the other members of the team to the detriment of the assessment process’. Towards mid-September, 10 staff from a law firm were recruited to help assess the bids, Hurlston said. Staff were also recruited from across the LAA to ‘assist with the increasingly frantic effort to assess the responses’ by the end of September, ‘leading to around 50 people working on assessing the bids, many of them with little or no training’.
Hurlston said the moderation process was ‘initially consistent’, with one person moderating all the bids in one procurement area. ‘However, once the LAA rather belatedly became aware that bidding firms had used some generic answers to answer questions when bidding across a number of procurement areas, the LAA used a “super moderator”… to write “generic responses to the generic answers".'
Hurlston said the LAA seemed to view generic responses negatively and these generic responses ‘tended to be scored lower than initial assessment and moderation. This was to the detriment of firms bidding in more than one area’. Hurlston said one firm bidding across a number of procurement areas ‘was so disadvantaged that it went from being a top-scoring firm that would have got a contract to a low-scoring firm that would not have got a contract’.
Post by Colin Henderson on Nov 3, 2015 14:09:21 GMT
Thanks for replying. I'm sorry if my comment caused any hurt on top of that which you and all staff must be feeling now. Obviously I simply speak as I find and I won't go into the details of my brief experience with Blavo management (which was over 2 years ago) in public.
I can make clear I have never had any dealings with the fee-earners and have no reason to believe that the staff were not as conscientious in their work for clients as it is possible to be in the perverse world of publicly-funded advice.
It's interesting that you said you felt safer in a bigger firm. If you feel you can explain in more detail what may have gone wrong at Blavo & Co or how it has hit the staff and clients please do. Do you see yourself or your colleagues continuing in legal aid work somehow?
Post by Colin Henderson on Feb 3, 2016 15:36:59 GMT
Although long experience has taught me never to accept anything the LAA say at face value, this latest report on the Blavo closure makes grim reading. It will be remaining legal aid providers who will pay the price: "Further details have emerged about the demise of London-headquartered firm Blavo & Co Solicitors, which was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in October.
Mr Justice Garnham continued a freezing order against the firm’s former managing director John Blavo in a High Court judgment handed down on 28 January. A freezing order was first made against Blavo on 26 November.
In October, the Legal Aid Agency referred concerns about the firm to the Metropolitan Police after terminating all its legal aid contracts. A company winding-up order filed with Companies House shows that Blavo & Co Solicitors Limited was wound up on 30 November 2015 under the provisions of the Insolvency Act 1986.
Garnham’s judgment states that the firm was asked to provide 23,173 files by 17 August 2015. The firm provided files on four clients the following month. The lord chancellor terminated the firm’s 2014 civil contract and other contracts from 1 October. ‘Following that termination, the applicant assessed the claims on the remaining mental health files at nil,’ the judgment states. ‘In consequence of that assessment, the sum of £22,371,521.38 became payable by [Blavo & Co] to the applicant [the lord chancellor] pursuant to the 2014 Civil Contract. That is the sum the applicant claims from the first defendant in these proceedings.’
According to an affidavit from Mark Stewart, an investigator in the LAA’s counter-fraud team, the team analysed 49 files to verify information on the files. The team found that HM Courts and Tribunals Service had no record of tribunal proceedings in respect of the individual client or on the date the file indicated in 42 of the 49 files. Other findings by the team included: - In a further comparison of all mental health tribunal claims against the HMCTS system, the firm submitted 24,658 claims for attendance at tribunals of which 1,485 tribunals were recorded by HMCTS as having taken place; - The LAA team used an electronic sampling tool to randomly select 144 cases for further investigation across the last three complete financial years. Only 3% could be evidenced from HMCTS records; - 101 NHS trusts were contacted to confirm HMCTS’s records. There were two cases where the trusts could say the client was in hospital at the time the firm submitted its claims for work to the LAA; - In relation to the 98 other cases, the trusts had no record of the client being a patient. One trust said that, at the relevant time, it had no mental health facilities. In another case, Stewart’s investigations confirmed that the mental health facility had closed in 2008 and had burnt down in 2010, so was not operational at the time the tribunal allegedly took place.
Responding to the allegations, Blavo pointed to the four cases for which files had been found and submitted to the lord chancellor, where it was accepted that there had been work done on the files and nil assessments were rescinded. Discrepancy between the number of claims made and the number of references to the firm and its predecessors in the records of HMCTS ‘may lie in the fact that the first defendant expanded, in large part, by merging with, or taking over, other firms who had initially had conduct of the cases before the tribunal’, Olivier Kalfon, representing Blavo, argued. Kalfon also referred to Blavo’s evidence ‘as to the extreme difficulty he has had providing the required files to the applicant’ and that the applicant required 23,000 files to be provided ‘according to a strict timetable’.
However, Garnham said it was ‘surprising in the extreme that a firm of solicitors the size of [Blavo & Co] could not provide the files in respect of which they had submitted claims for payment as requested by the claimant’. He said it was ‘extraordinary that the first defendant could not recover a far greater number of files than in fact they did, if such files existed.’"
Post by Colin Henderson on Feb 24, 2016 9:43:22 GMT
The next casualty of the demise of legal aid is an odd one at first sight - it's high profile criminal firm Kaim Todner, one of the Big Firms Group.
But surely criminal legal aid has been given a reprieve? Yes, except the BFG firms were hoping to survive through big new contracts at the expense of their smaller competitors. KT failed to get one contract it bid for and took legal action challenging that bid decision. Now the whole two-tier contract has been cancelled presumably even the reprieve on fee cuts does not help the future seem viable. Here's the report:
A high-profile London criminal defence firm is closing its doors next month, its managing director has announced.
Karen Todner (pictured) told her Twitter followers on Friday evening that Kaim Todner, which has two offices in London, would be ‘moving towards controlled and orderly closure’ in March. ‘Clients and solicitors placed and cared for. New ventures ahead,’ she said. ‘But for now it’s business as usual,’ Todner told the Gazette.
Todner, who qualified in 1987, has been the firm’s MD since it was established in 1990. Specialising in criminal law including extradition and fraud, Todner represented ‘Pentagon hacker’ Gary McKinnon, a former computer systems administrator with Asperger’s syndrome, who was suffering from depressive illness. McKinnon faced up to 60 years in a US prison if found guilty of what one US prosecutor called the ‘biggest military computer hack of all time’. A decade after Todner came to the case, home secretary Theresa May told parliament in October 2012 that McKinnon would not be extradited to the US. More recently Kaim Todner made headlines for its part in challenging the government’s procurement process for new criminal legal aid contracts.
The firm is part of the Big Firms Group, whose 37 members carry out around 25% of criminal legal aid work. The firm was a leading member of the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, set up to challenge the procurement process via judicial review.
Todner told the Gazette: ‘Given recent developments, the firm’s future is not entirely clear but options for a way forward are being considered.’