How do legal aid lawyers work?

If you are on a low income or are claiming benefits, you may be entitled to legal aid for some cases.

Until 2013, most areas of civil and criminal law could be funded by legal aid. However, government reforms in England & Wales mean legal aid is now mainly limited to criminal law and a few narrow areas of civil law. Legal aid remains more widely available to residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Deciding eligibility in civil cases

In the past, solicitors would decide the eligibility of a case themselves and then apply to the Legal Services Commission for funding. Today, it is up to the client to apply, by contacting the Legal Aid Telephone Gateway.

Their advisors will determine whether the case is eligible for Legal Aid and should provide a reference number.

The solicitors will use the reference number to confirm their client’s funding application. This can take some time due to the volume of applications and the time it takes to process them. If you have a case for which you require legal aid, you must take care to start it as early as possible.

Taking on the case

Once funding has been confirmed the solicitors will work on the case almost as if the client was paying privately. They will keep careful notes detailing the amount of time the case has taken and will periodically send reports to the Legal Aid Agency.

Legally aided work should be as high quality as work undertaken for a private fee, however, in practice solicitors are likely to make less money on these cases. Consequently, they will try to ensure that they are highly efficient in their time management.

If you have concerns that your case is not being dealt with correctly, you can make a complaint through the legal ombudsman. Visit our professional negligence page to find out more about these sorts of claims.

After the case concludes

If their case has been successful, the client may be asked to make a contribution towards their legal fees. This was more common before the recent reforms when legal aid was available for more types of litigation. Clients will not be asked to contribute if they have not been awarded monetary damages.

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