The tender process for 2018 face-to-face contracts is underway, so it’s a good time to make sure you meet the requirements and start gathering the right documentation.
The final hurdle before your 2018 contract can be confirmed is to provide acceptable verification evidence. If you cannot provide the required evidence in time, your contract offer may be withdrawn (Face to face invitation to tender, information for applicants
(IFA) 7.4).1Available here.
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) places the responsibility on you to submit it no later than Friday 20 July 2018 (IFA 1.18). If, at the point of verification, you cannot produce the evidence to justify a higher lot award, the LAA will offer you a contract at a lower lot where you can provide the evidence for that (IFA 7.5).
SQM or Lexcel
If you currently hold a quality standard, it is advisable to consider when your next assessment will be and bring it forward, if necessary, to ensure your accreditation is confirmed in time. Similarly, if you are a new organisation, make sure your assessment can be completed in time. You may wish to contact your accreditation body to ask it to advise you, bearing in mind it will need time to deal with corrective action and process your accreditation.
This does not apply to family mediation, where no additional quality standard applies (IFA 2.7). For all civil and family law categories, see the table at IFA 2.13 for full details.
Authorisation from a professional body
Unless you only provide mediation, you must have appropriate authorisation to conduct ‘reserved legal activities’ under the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA) (IFA 2.18). Again, if you are setting up a new organisation, you should contact your regulator (the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board or CILEx Regulation) to see how long you should allow for your application to be processed in time.
Category- and lot-specific requirements
These are to be found in the category-specific section of the 2018 Contract Specification. It is important to check that your supervisors meet the LAA’s competence standard for their area of law. The easiest way to do this is to ask them to complete a supervisor self-declaration form so that any issues can be addressed well before the verification period. If someone needs to apply for reaccreditation, make sure that will come through with time to spare. The specifications, forms and guidance on how to complete them can be found here
Supervisors must be owners or employees of the business (except for family mediation, where an agent may be used: see the Family Mediation Specification para 2.15 et seq). The ratio is one full-time equivalent (FTE) supervisor to four members of staff (IFA 2.23–2.24). A supervisor can only cover up to two offices (IFA 2.22).
An authorised litigator is someone who can conduct litigation under the LSA, ie, three-year qualified solicitors, and barristers and chartered CILEx lawyers who have specific authorisation to do so. A part-time equivalent (PTE) applies to bids at lot 2 and above in housing (IFA 2.42), and to all bids for community care (IFA 2.72) and claims against public authorities (IFA 2.74).
You need an authorised litigator in immigration and asylum (IFA 2.45) and mental health (IFA 2.68) but the amount of time s/he needs to be in the organisation is not specified.
In most categories of law, offices must meet ‘permanent presence’ or ‘part-time presence’ requirements (IFA 2.27). In mental health, you can use ‘alternative arrangements’ for some offices.
You will need to provide a completed indemnity where your organisation has limited liability, unless it is a charity (IFA 7.11). This is designed to give the LAA the same enforcement rights against owners of the business as if they were sole principals or partners. The forms can be downloaded here
If you are a limited company and have a lot of directors, allow good time for this, especially as those who are not involved in legal aid may not appreciate that the LAA will not be flexible about submission dates.
Apply for a legal aid account number
If you are setting up a new practice, or opening a new office, you will need to provide a completed AC1 form and any associated documentation for each new office (IFA 7.14).
Vicky Ling is a consultant specialising in legal aid practice and a founder member of the Law Consultancy Network. email@example.com.