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Can I transfer solicitors if I have Legal Aid?

In England and Wales, legal aid is a system that provides financial assistance to individuals who are unable to afford legal representation and access to the justice system. If you are already benefiting from legal aid services but have worries or concerns about the solicitor you are using, you do have options for transferring to a different one. In this article, we will outline what is possible and what is not when it comes to transferring legal aid solicitors and answer some of the most common questions we get about this subject.

What can I do if I am unhappy with my legal aid solicitor?

Anyone experiencing legal difficulties knows how reassuring it can be to have a qualified, experienced, and understanding solicitor by your side. But what happens in the unlikely event that you do not get on with your solicitor, or you have serious doubts about their ability to do their jobs properly? If you are not happy with your solicitor, there are a few steps you can take.

  • Try to resolve the issue by speaking with your solicitor: It may be that there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication that can be easily resolved by having an open and honest conversation with them.
  • Raise your concerns with the supervising partner or head of department: If speaking with your solicitor does not resolve the issue, you can try raising your concerns with their supervisor or the head of their department. Some law firms also have client support representatives that can help you navigate any difficulties.
  • Make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman: If you are not satisfied with the way your concerns have been handled by your solicitor or their firm, you can make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman. The Legal Ombudsman is an independent service that deals with complaints about lawyers in England and Wales.
  • Consider switching solicitors: If you are not happy with your solicitor and have been unable to resolve the issue, you may decide to switch to a different solicitor. If you have legal aid, you will need to get permission from the Legal Aid Agency to change solicitors. If you are paying for your legal representation privately, you will need to discuss the matter with your solicitor and come to an agreement on ending the relationship and transferring your case to a new solicitor.

Keep in mind that solicitors are bound by professional standards and codes of conduct and should always strive to provide a high level of service to their clients. If you are experiencing serious problems with your solicitor, don’t hesitate to seek help and explore your options.

How do I transfer legal aid solicitors?

If you have experienced problems with your solicitor at an already stressful time, you are likely to want to sack your solicitor on the spot and go find a new one. While that may be possible (though unadvisable) with private solicitors, with legal aid solicitors, it is not (not unless you want to be left completely without representation, that is). Instead, with legal aid solicitors, you must go through the process of requesting a transfer, which involves presenting valid reasons to the court for seeking a new solicitor. This is known as an ‘Application to Transfer’.

The Criminal Procedure Rules and Practice Directions 2020 dictate the more complex requirements for transferring criminal representation, but everything you need to know as a client is outlined on the Application to Transfer form itself (importantly, this form can only be used to transfer legal aid solicitors in England and Wales).

To change legal aid solicitors in England and Wales, you will need to follow a few steps:

  • You will need to find a new solicitor who is willing to take on your case and is registered with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) to provide legal aid services. You can search for solicitors in your area on the government’s website.
  • Inform your current solicitor that you are intending to transfer solicitors. You may share reasons if you feel it appropriate, but if the change is a result of total breakdown in communication, you may not need to.
  • Complete the Application to Transfer form, ensuring all sections are completed, including those required to be completed by your existing solicitor and the proposed new representation.
  • Send the completed form to the court for consideration. The decision to allow the transfer is at the discretion of the court, which will consider factors such as the costs of the transfer and whether transferring your case represents the proper use of public funds.
  • Be prepared to present evidence in court: If your current solicitor contests the transfer or is not happy about it, you may be required to present evidence of your complaints in court.

Remember that the LAA may decide not to grant permission to change solicitors if they believe it is not in your best interests or if the change would cause undue disruption to your case.

Can I change legal aid solicitors halfway through a case?

It is generally not advisable to change solicitors once a case is close to completion, as the disruption caused by the change could potentially harm your case. However, there is no hard and fast rule on when it is ‘too late’ to change solicitors, as each case is unique, and the timing will depend on the specific circumstances. As such, if you are halfway through your case and you feel there is an imperative need to change solicitors, you can do so.

Changing solicitors before trial – is that a good idea?

Before deciding to switch legal aid solicitors, it is important to consider the potential consequences of doing so. This is especially important if your trial date is approaching. Changing legal representation at any time can be disruptive and may potentially harm your case, but it is especially so if the solicitor has already prepared your case for trial. It is, therefore, crucial that you carefully weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

If your primary concern is dissatisfaction with the personal relationship you have with your current solicitor, it may not be worth the risk of changing right before trial. On the other hand, if you have serious concerns about the professionalism or quality of the representation you are receiving, it is certainly worth considering a change because you want to be assured of quality representation at trial.

How long does it take to transfer a legal aid certificate?

Courts and the LAA try to deal with transfer requests as expeditiously as possible due to the disruption that changing legal aid solicitors can cause. That said, it will not be wholly clear how long it will take to transfer legal aid. Some cases transfer quite quickly – within a few working days – if the case is very urgent, whereas others will take longer.

Can you instruct two solicitors?

Generally speaking, it is not possible to instruct two solicitors at the same time to represent you in the same matter. This is because solicitors owe a duty of loyalty and confidentiality to their clients, and it would be difficult for two solicitors to fulfil these duties concurrently. It would also represent an unsatisfactory use of public funds.

What is legal aid available for?

Legal aid is available for a range of legal issues, including criminal cases, family law matters, and civil cases involving issues such as debt, housing, and employment. To qualify for legal aid, an individual must meet certain financial and merit criteria. The financial criteria take into account an individual’s income, savings, and assets, and are designed to ensure that legal aid is targeted at those who are most in need. The merit criteria are used to determine whether it is reasonable for legal aid to be granted in a particular case.

Note that you may not be able to change your legal aid solicitor and change the type of representation you receive. For example, if you received legal aid to help with the defence of a criminal charge, it is unlikely that you will be able to change solicitors and get help instead with a pending eviction.

Do you have to pay back legal aid?

Legal aid is generally provided in the form of a grant, which means that it does not need to be repaid. However, in some cases, individuals who receive legal aid may be required to pay back a contribution towards their legal costs.

Where to get help with legal aid?

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the legal system and uncertain about your options for representation? If you’re considering switching from your current legal aid lawyer or need guidance on finding a new lawyer, Stuart Miller Solicitors is here to help. Our team is dedicated to providing compassionate and unbiased support, regardless of your financial situation. While we do not offer legal aid services ourselves, we have a team of experienced lawyers who can provide affordable representation on a private basis. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation and take the first step towards finding the legal representation you deserve.

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