Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sign of the times

In marketing, having an easily recognised logo or style which encapsulates the brand is half the battle. Heinz baked beans have their distinctive label design, Kellogg’s cornflakes have the green cockerel and legal aid used to have its two figures at a table. The last government went through a rebranding exercise after the Access to Justice Act (1999) when the legal aid brand was junked in favour of the Criminal Defence Service (CDS) and the Community Legal Service (CLS). This rebranding was an expensive flop and we argue that the current government should move decisively to bring back the old brand.

Other countries such as Canada still use the legal aid logo and it seems solicitors here have been reluctant to drop it. The picture, taken last week, shows the office door of a firm in Cornwall. Maybe it has not got around to changing the sign, or perhaps it took the view that it was best to ignore the chopping and changing around legal aid branding and stick to what the public understands. If the latter was its motivation, it makes sense. Changing a well-recognised brand is expensive and can lead to confusion among customers. For many people seeking legal help it can feel intimidating walking into a solicitor's office. With the legal aid logo, at least they have the reassurance that a solicitor provides this public service, as plenty do not.

Of course, the term 'legal aid' is still widely used to describe the services provided by the CDS and the CLS. Both these services got branding and associated logos, which have never caught on. As well as being cheap (the logo is already designed!), readopting the legal aid brand would help with legal aid’s profile in what are difficult times. A further reduction in the number of high street firms is likely (see 'Justice committee slams government's legal aid plans'), which means a strong marketing strategy is essential as the public needs to know that services are still available. It would also, perhaps, show some indication from the government that it is not just content to allow legal aid to wither away as a public service.

Picture: LAG

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Action heroes for justice

Justice for All (JfA), the campaign group composed of charities and other organisations opposed to cuts in legal aid and advice services, has called for a day of action on 3 June. The group, whose wide membership includes the Women’s Institute, Shelter and Citizens Advice, has launched a campaign pack to inspire its members to be 'action hero[es] for justice'. The pack features a Lady Justice figure (see above) upgraded to an action hero and includes draft press releases, posters and letters to encourage members to engage in local and national campaigning work. Hackney Council recently became a supporter of the campaign and a model council motion is included in the pack to encourage other local councils to follow its lead. JfA aims to encourage local demonstrations and events to highlight the impact of the proposed legal aid and other cuts in advice services. It suggests members organise a silent march or rally in their local areas to emphasise that 'people's voices will be silenced without free legal advice'. Advice in areas of law such as employment, welfare benefits, housing and debt will be cut if the government’s proposals for legal aid are implemented. JfA points out that help in these types of cases only makes up 2.5 per cent of the total legal aid budget.

It is calling on the government to look at cutting the £134m spent on administering legal aid and argues that every pound spent on early advice leads to a saving of up to £10 in other costs to the state. For more details about the day of action see the JfA website. LAG is a member of the campaign’s steering group and is urging organisations and individuals to both join JfA and support the Law Society’s Sound Off for Justice campaign.

Picture: Justice for All

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Problems in Portsmouth

Portsmouth Community Legal Advice Centre's (PCLAC) future looks in doubt after Portsmouth City Council and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) decided not to retender or extend the centre’s contracts.

LAG understands that both the council and the LSC had intended to renew the centre’s existing contracts until 2012, but as it has fallen short of its targets for specialist level work they decided not to. PCLAC holds contracts in family, housing, benefits, debt and community care, which LAG understands end this month. The LSC is running a tendering exercise for contracts for debt, housing and welfare benefits to serve Portsmouth and hopes to put in place temporary contracts to cover the work in the meantime.

PCLAC was the second community legal advice centre to get off the ground. It opened its doors in May 2008. The centre was a joint venture between Portsmouth Citizens Advice Bureau and The YOU Trust, a large regional charity which provides care services. It enjoyed a high profile with visits from Lord Bach, while he was legal aid minister and Jack Straw, in his then position of Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary.

The last government believed that CLACs could be established across the country to bring together legal advice services paid for by local government and legal aid. But most local councils were reluctant to enter into agreements to jointly tender services with the LSC as they were afraid this would lead to the closure of, or severe cutbacks in, existing local not for profit advice centres.

The government announced plans in November 2010 to cut legal aid for most of the work covered by the few CLACs which have been established and so it now looks like they will be consigned to history. What frustrates LAG is an essentially good idea of bringing services together to better serve clients, has never caught on because the government and the LSC were not prepared to listen to the concerns from providers about the initiative.

It is to be hoped that Portsmouth City Council will continue to support the Citizens Advice Bureau which has two branches in the city, as this is now the its main provider of advice on debt, benefits and other areas of social welfare law.

Image: Legal Services Commission