Fifteen south Wales law firms are set to merge back-office operations and link up with a leading chambers with a view to bidding for a criminal legal aid contract as a single business.
Only the name of the chambers, Temple Chambers in Cardiff, and Cardiff law firm Lloyd & Rowe have been released at this stage as the groundbreaking deal is still being tied up.
In a move that could foreshadow the future organisation of criminal defence work, the 15 firms will form a company that will go into business with the barristers’ incorporated arm, Temple Law Ltd, as a third entity.
Consultant Ian Dodd, of Bar Consultancy Network, who is helping to build the arrangement, said the firms – which until now have been competing with each other – are looking at economies of scale and so are considering merging back-office operations and also putting offices together in certain locations.
He said the Legal Services Commission envisages 10-15 suppliers in each criminal justice area as a result of competitive tendering, which could lead to the number of firms with contracts falling by two-thirds and will put an emphasis on larger businesses bidding for contracts. The move to “one case, one fee” will also highlight the need for solicitors and barristers to work together.
With no single major provider in south Wales, unlike in other areas, there is an opportunity for these firms to bid for “a larger slice of the pie”, Mr Dodd explained.
Nick Lloyd, of Lloyd & Rowe in Cardiff, said: “The Ministry of Justice’s comprehensive initiative on the reform of legal aid poses some challenging objectives and requires the legal profession to be innovative in its thinking. By cooperating with Temple Chambers we believe that we can provide a more cost-efficient and targeted service to clients and ensure that access to justice is made as easy as it can be for those who require it”.
Hilary Roberts, head of chambers at Temple Chambers, added: “By combining litigation and advocacy within one operating legal entity, we can eliminate the sometimes costly and time-consuming overlap between solicitors and barristers working on a case. Covering the whole of south Wales also gives us the opportunity to deliver a consistent high quality to all of our clients.”
Last year, then Bar Council chairman Nick Green argued that criminal barristers would have to join forces with solicitors  to survive.
Mr Dodd said barristers at Temple Chambers employed by the new business would still be able to accept instructions from other solicitors in their separate guise of self-employed barristers.