News In Focus
Legal Spark shrugs off legal aid setback to relaunch
A pioneering Glasgow law centre marked the launch of its new brand at a reception last night, having pulled through from a year in which it unexpectedly found itself deprived of its ability to carry out legal aid work.
Set up by solicitor Daniel Donaldson in July 2015, Legal Spark promotes itself as a social enterprise law centre, seeking new ways of providing affordable legal services and promoting access to justice in the absence of legal aid. It now claims a client base comprising social enterprises, local businesses, charities and individuals.
A reception in Legal Spark's Glasgow office attended by around 80 people, including Fraser Kelly, chief executive of Social Enterprise Scotland, Alison Thewliss MP and Ivan McKee MSP, heard that the company had bounced back from the experience of having its approval to carry out civil legal aid work rescinded after what the Law Society of Scotland has admitted was an error in granting its application.
The approval was confirmed in early 2016 after Legal Spark satisfied the Society's Civil Legal Aid Committee that it complied with the administrative requirements set in consultation with the Scottish Legal Aid Board. However the Society later found that Legal Spark was not a “practice unit” as required under its rules.
Earlier, Mr Donaldson claimed that the Society had “tried to shut us down by making it as difficult as possible to get any work done”, as “a political decision, because we stood against many powerful vested interests”.
The Society however said it had acted in the public interest, as it only approved business units that met certain criteria including full professional indemnity insurance and payment into the client protection fund.
A spokesperson told the Journal: “Legal Spark is not a firm of solicitors and, as such, should not have been permitted to carry out legal aid work under the civil legal assistance quality assurance scheme. We accept that approving the application was a mistake on our part and we acted quickly to rectify this and have changed our processes so it cannot happen again. Once the error was recognised we wrote to Mr Donaldson to advise him of the issue.”
Legal Spark has remained in business, and in its first major case represented the Humanist Society Scotland in its judicial review of the Scottish Government’s guidance regarding compulsory religious observance in Scotland’s schools.
Launching the new brand, Mr Donaldson declared: “Today, Legal Spark has reinvigorated itself. The new branding, 'Legal Spark, empowering you' has been introduced representing what the legal practice stands for: to empower the people it represents working with them to resolve their legal issues.”
He added: “I did not give up on developing a business model that businesses and individuals were crying out for – people needed affordable legal services, and they also wanted lawyers with empathy because they felt so disempowered by the whole system.
“We will continue to empower all of our clients and that is the message we launch today.”
He said he was proud that Legal Spark operated without any support from public funds.