Why you should have the current edition of the Legal Aid Handbook.
The other day, an eminent legal aid lawyer told me they were still using the 2013/14 edition of the Legal Aid Handbook. My heart sank, not because I had lost royalties – LAG pays us a modest fixed fee (very legal aid). It was partly because LAG could do with the additional sales, but mainly because the 2013/14 edition is so out of date it is practically useless!
Let’s start with the basics. The 2013/14 edition had 19 chapters and 450 pages. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was new and untested in the courts. We have had a lot of litigation since then, much of it successful, which has made the legal aid system a little better for people needing to defend and protect their rights. The table of cases in the 2013/14 edition was less than a page; it now spans four. For example, if you are still using the 2013/14 edition, you could be applying a restricted version of the prospects of success test, pre the IS
case1IS v Director of Legal Aid Casework and Lord Chancellor  EWHC 1965 (Admin).
and successful appeal,2 EWCA Civ 464.
which resulted in a revised version. You could be discouraging clients from applying for legal aid in circumstances where they might be eligible.
The legal aid contracts covered in the 2013/14 edition have been superseded by the Standard Crime Contract 2017
and the Standard Civil Contract 2018
. As all practitioners know, legal aid is complicated and it changes all the time. The 2018/19 edition
has 23 chapters and 603 pages. We have more expert contributors than ever before, and we added a chapter to demystify the working of the Legal Aid Agency’s client and cost management system (CCMS). The 2020/21 edition will have two additional chapters, on civil costs appeals and community care law, and is likely to be longer still.
If you are working with an outdated edition, do yourselves and your clients a favour and shell out £60 for the paperback or eBook (or £85.80 for both) – for legal books, a bargain basement price. It contains vital information about how legal aid works, from taking on a client to claiming your costs. The quick reference guides to what you can claim for under civil/family and crime contracts will make it pay for itself. If you work in a larger or multi-office firm, you may well need more than one copy. As Phil Walsh, partner and practice manager at Miles and Partners, put it: ‘I wish I could say “this book is never off my desk” but the truth is my copy … always appears to be on someone else’s.’
Simon Pugh (then practice manager of Wilsons Solicitors in north London) and I wrote our first legal aid guide for the Law Society in 2003. LAG first published the Legal Aid Handbook in 2008. The introduction includes thanks to some eminent legal aid practitioners (who happily remain in practice), as well as several members of Legal Services Commission staff, for their comments on our draft. The original handbook was based around the queries Simon and I received from colleagues, and the same approach continues today. From time to time, I receive queries from readers, and if an issue does not appear in the current edition, I make a note and we add it next time. We now have an impressive line-up of 11 leading legal aid practitioners who revise chapters in the light of their own practices and experiences.
The 2020/21 edition is now being finalised and is due to appear in January 2020. It remains the only comprehensive single-volume guide to both the civil and crime schemes. It covers the basics, such as key documentation – where to find it and how to keep up to date with it, which is very helpful for training new staff – through specialist chapters dealing with most legal aid categories of law, exceptional case funding, CCMS, advocacy, managing contracts, quality standards and legal aid policy. There really is something for every legal aid practitioner from new paralegal to senior lawyer. Keep an eye on the LAG books webpage
for updates on publication of the new edition.