Legal aid files and accounts can seem daunting to deal with. However, in experienced hands, you can be assured your final accounts will be paid without issue. The best way to ensure this is to prepare the account with care and accuracy, heading off any potential issues prior to submission.
Laura has over a decade of experience in preparing accounts for submission to the Scottish Legal Aid Board and, in this blog, she shares her hints and tips for practitioners.
After activities which you can charge according to time spent, are those events you may charge according to page count.
In the legal aid world, a one page letter equates to 125 words. That does not include the salutation or the sign off, and it does not include the heading of the letter. In essence, you must restrict your charge to the body of the letter.
During the first consultation with your client, whether over the telephone or in person, you must assess your client’s eligibility for legal aid. Obvious as that may be, what must be made explicit in your attendance note is that:
If you do not make this clear, the Board will abate your initial attendance in full until you qualify what proportion of the meeting was spent on that non-chargeable element.
An application for legal aid usually requires the submission of a statement from the client setting out why they need legal aid, along with an additional statement from a third party who knows about the case to back that up.
I see many practitioners try to charge these at precognition rate. However, these should be properly charged at the framing detailed papers rate.
Generally, unless they require a lot of legal thought or input, mandates (medical, previous agents) will be accepted at (or abated to) a formal charge.
Did you know you can charge the legal aid increase or sanction application through at framing papers rate? It’s framing detailed for a non-template increase, and framing formal for a template. Generally they allow 1 sheet regardless of word count.
So many firms I see are not charging for them at all – and it all adds up!
The activities which will attract the highest charge are those which are charged by the hour – such as client meetings, court attendances and perusals. A common mistake I see is perusal activities being submitted with no page count. Without a page count, the legal aid board will simply not pay out on that perusal, regardless of how detailed your perusal note is.
With a voluminous bundle of papers, the Board generally tend to accept an approximation of the pages. However, an easy way to find out the page count is to have your secretary scan the bundle – as then you will have the page count up on screen.
My hope is that these hints and tips will let you get the most return for your hard work on legal aid accounts. If you don't have the time or resources to get all your accounts through and maximise your fees, then contact Laura and find out how she can support you with this.
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