According to an annual review of this area of the legal system, law centres are successfully managing to recover from the impact of significant cuts to their funding. “Picking up the Pieces,” the latest annual review from the Law Centres Network, said that while centres had been “certainly knocked” they were finding “surprising ways” to come back from the loss of funding.
Law centres are independent sources of professional legal advice, and can be invaluable to those on low incomes who need help with legal matters. They are in essence publicly funded, but significant cuts to funding, introduced in 2013 as part of wider legal budget cuts, have left many struggling to support full provision of their services with these funds alone. However, the Law Centres Network’s report has revealed that law centres around the UK have begun finding a number of new ways to subsidise their operation.
A number of centres have made up the shortfall in available funding, at least in part, by charging certain clients – those who can afford to pay a fee – for some services. The decision by some centres to charge for services has been a controversial one, but is proving effective. Rochdale Law Centre, for example, now works closely with a non-profit legal practice, Rochdale Legal Enterprise. This practice operates in much the same way as any other firm of solicitors, but specialises in providing its services at low costs which are affordable to those on lower- and middle-tier incomes. Money generated by this solicitors’ practice is first used to cover staff and overheads, and money earned over and above running costs goes to Rochdale Law Centre in order to support its provision of free services.
A similar arrangement has been created in Islington with the emergence of a social enterprise named Green Roots. The goal of Green Roots is to provide legal services that will be accessible to “people who would otherwise go without a lawyer,” by ensuring support is made available “at as low a price as possible.” The enterprise is owned by Islington Law Centre.
Others have formed links, partnerships, and cooperative arrangements with non-legal organisations and charities such as mental health or disability support organisations, projects supporting domestic violence victims, and food banks. These mutually-supportive arrangements help all involved parties, including Law Centres, to more effectively generate funding to cover the cost of continuing to operate.
Some law centres have even managed to expand their offerings when it comes to free advice, and in some cases this forms part of such a partnership. A number of centres are offering legal advice and services for free to organisations they are partnering with, or more particularly the people those organisations support, as part of an arrangement that also has benefits for the law centre in return.