A recent correspondent from Australia--Byron Cross of the Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania--told me about the Salvation Army's aim there to set up a commercial law firm.
The Salvation Army will open a commercial law firm in the Sydney CBD later this year which will charge market rates to do property and conveyancing law for corporate and government clients. Profits from the new firm, which will pay its lawyers proper salaries, will be funnelled back into the Salvation Army’s humanitarian work, including free legal advice for the poor and needy.To receive moral salvation at the same time as a good salary might be a strong incentive for lawyers to take this up. From our students' perspectives it open ups possibilities about their legal careers. (See my comments in the age of the superlawyer.) But, of course, in the English context this is the kind of development we expect to see issuing out of the Legal Services Act 2007.
This also raises the issue of how we will in future fund legal services for the poor and disenfranchised. I've written earlier about how we might guarantee essential services for people for which there are no simple answers. What is clear that traditional models of funding law for the poor, welfare law, or legal aid are in the opinion of most governments unsustainable. They are desperately searching for alternatives, and the search is exacerbated by the recession.
My correspondent's fear is that governments will see the route taken by the Salvation Army as the solution for their scaling back of funding. David Cameron's view of the "Big Society" appears based on this kind of thinking. And, as part of the Third Sector, the Salvation Army and other charitable organizations are reacting to this rhetoric and at the same time driving it forward. But all of this is founded on partnership and complementarity, not the large-scale shifting of legal aid from the public to the private sector.